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Alfie by Bill Naughton at Bolton Octagon

Published by: Caroline May on 22nd Jan 2012 | View all blogs by Caroline May

In one of those ironic twists of fate, Bolton's most famous writer Bill Naughton - a man who has bequeathed his name to the Octagon’s studio space - is probably best known as the onlie begetter of the archetypal Cockney lothario Alfie Atkins.

What an extraordinary creation Alfie is.  The playwright has a musician’s ear for the nuances of accent, making his anti-hero not a mere loud-mouthed barrow boy or a  chirpy Cockney sparrow, but endowing him with the precise delivery and idiom of his region and class - closer to Diary of a Nobody than Oliver Twist or EastEnders.  The brilliant dialogue teems with comedy, cruelty and bathos, but one of the script’s most striking features is its daring use of aside and commentary, giving the lead actor unparalleled opportunities to play up to the audience like a sex-obsessed Richard III. 

David Ricardo-Pearce as the eponymous hero is handsome and dressed to kill, the absolutely epitome of the Sixties even before they’ve begun to Swing. 

John Branwell delivers a masterclass in pathos and comedy as Joe, a widowed hospital visitor, and his still and chilly portrayal of the abortion doctor Mr Smith is mesmerising.  Ill health robbed us of the chance to see him play Fred Dibnah last spring - they should revive The Demolition Man just so we can see him in the role.

The script gives designer Lis Evans the challenge of creating umpteen sets including bedrooms, hospital wards, greasy spoon caffs, car interiors and pubs.  She gets round the problem by putting her props on wheels, and coupled with Lesley Hutchinson’s movement direction the scenes change so frequently and rapidly that watching the tables, chairs and cupboards flying in and out is like seeing the Ikea catalogue perform Starlight Express.

David Thacker’s production is fluid and fast-paced, though it can’t quite dispel memories of the classic Michael Caine film.

Alfie is on at Bolton Octagon until Saturday 18 February 2012
Then touring to Newcastle-under-Lyme, Scarborough and Oldham
Tickets: from £9.50-£22.50
Performances Mon-Sat
Eves @ 7.30pm
Matinees: Wed & Sat @ 2pm
Box Office: 01204 520661



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