Winter Hill takes centre stage at Octagon – review


Winter Hill is a brand new play by Timberlake Wertenbaker, set in the near future, about a group of women who meet up in a half-constructed hotel complex on Winter Hill. Although they start off meeting as a book group, their discussions soon take a very different direction and their lives will never be the same.

As this is a world premiere, it was nice to be able to watch it without any preconceptions. I was actually quite surprised at how political and deep it was, exploring issues such as gender inequality, capitalism and immigration, with some amusing, veiled digs at the north/south divide and about living in Bolton.

With a brilliant, all-female cast, this is a character-driven play, delivered by some talented and well-known faces. Although I most enjoyed the humour from Janet Henfry and the passion from Denise Black, it actually feels wrong to highlight individual performances as this is a strong cast who bring very different personalities to the piece, all of which add different facets to the story.

By chance, I found myself sitting next to the charming Alex Joynes, making his debut as Assistant Director, who explained about the background research that had been undertaken (and which I suppose we rarely consider when watching a play) to get the sights, sounds and technology just right to lend authenticity. I must admit I usually find that the set, sound, costume and lighting designs at the Octagon seem to really enhance the productions so well. The cast and writer, led by director Elizabeth Newman, even climbed up a windy Winter Hill and toured Bolton, as part of rehearsals, to really get a feel for the area.

Although there were quite a lot of laughs along the way, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a light-hearted piece or that it’s ‘just for women’. This is a powerful and deep piece of theatre that poses a pertinent moral dilemma about just how far people will go for their principles, or for their friends. In the current economic, social and political climates, the themes will resonate with everyone.

There’s something nice about seeing a piece that is set in your home town – you feel that you have an extra insight into it, somehow. Go with an open mind, take the issues on board and ask yourself what you would do. Good theatre should provoke discussion and reflection, and this play certainly does, but above all it’s about passion and friendship, and it delivers both in spades.

Book your tickets now, while they are still available.

Furthermore it sounds like there are some very exciting times ahead for theatre in Bolton. The theatre will be closed for about a year to allow for a sympathetic refurbishment to set it up for the next 50 years and make it more accessible to all. The season will not end, however, as the Octagon will be taking theatre to the people, with a production of Gulliver’s Travels in Queens Park, as well as a take on Summer Holiday, which takes place (quite literally!) on the buses! For full information, see the Octagon webpage.

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