Octagon shapes up to future

Published: 21 August 2020
Reporter: David Upton

Shape of things to come: the new-look Bolton Octagon

At last, one glimmer of hope for the future, as Bolton's Octagon theatre announces it will reopen, after extensive refurbishment, on December 4.

After two years of construction, then the global pandemic, the Octagon had originally been due to reopen this summer.

In December, it now plans to open the kitchen and bar for casual eating, drinking and socialising and host a number of creative workshops, along with a series of festive events to be announced soon. However, it has taken the decision to postpone previously announced productions.

Their new musical version of Charles Dickens’s festive classic A Christmas Carol will be postponed until Christmas 2021. Productions of Vinay Patel’s epic drama An Adventure and the world première of a new musical adaptation of the bestselling novel The Book Thief, both due to be staged early 2021, will also be rescheduled with dates to be confirmed. The Young Octagon’s production of One Night in Bolton will be reimagined as a radio world première. The theatre aims to stage alternative productions in the main theatre from early 2021 with titles and ticket details to be announced in the autumn.

The new programme is being planned on the assumption that social distancing will still be in place, and will mean significant loss in future revenue due to the need to restrict audience numbers. The theatre is encouraging supporters to join its membership scheme as means of continuing their support.

Chief Executive Roddy Gauld commented, “the last few years have been a real rollercoaster for the Octagon and I’m so relieved and delighted that we now have a new opening date. We enjoyed a record breaking 50th anniversary before two years working in different spaces across Bolton whilst the theatre was being redeveloped. We were so close to reopening when COVID-19 hit, and robbed us of not only our reopening but also risked our entire existence. The financial losses are huge and I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported us so far.

"We have no choice but to postpone planned shows and recognise we’re far from over this crisis. Our staff are still on furlough and we have no guarantee of further government support. What we do have is a fantastic new building that we will put to use in any way we can. We’ll be running community projects and announce a series of festive events later in the year.

"The Octagon generates millions of pounds for Bolton every year and we welcome thousands of visitors from across the region. Opening our doors isn’t only about getting the theatre open—it’s about getting our town centre, our cultural life and the local economy going again. I’m incredibly grateful to all of our supporters, including Bolton Council and the Arts Council, whose funding has made the redevelopment possible. And I’m really excited to welcome people safely into the Octagon soon.”

Before the theatre reopens, it continues to reach audiences digitally with a new online production co-produced with Guildford Shakespeare Company—a Zoom production of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Directed by artistic director Lotte Wakeham, this ‘made for online’ production will be available to watch live in the autumn with dates and ticket details to be announced September 1 and priority booking available for members.