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Love on the Dole at Bolton Octagon

Published by: Caroline May on 22nd Oct 2010 | View all blogs by Caroline May

Love on the Dole, like Hobson’s Choice, is something of a House Speciality for north-west theatres - in the last decade I’ve seen three different versions of Walter Greenwood’s Depression-era Salford stories at The Lowry alone.  Yet David Thacker’s programming of the piece could not have been more prescient at the very moment when an economic downturn promises mass unemployment, and a coalition government is implementing massive cuts in services and benefits.  Today’s newspapers barely contain a headline which doesn’t have a parallel in the play, up to and including the Manchester Evening News report about police violence against a demonstrator at a political rally in Bolton.

Greenwood’s drama, co-written with Ronald Gow, tells the tale of the poor but respectable Hardcastle family who are driven into deeper and deeper poverty by the decline in manufacturing trade and consequent mass lay-offs. With an unapologetically socialist agenda embodied by the neighbourhood’s working-class radical Larry Meath, the writers also paint a picture of a spirited community brimming with life in spite of endless hardships.

Clare Foster is funny and feisty as Sally Hardcastle, a girl who longs to leave the slums but finds her life choices increasingly constrained. Her moods veer from romantic to tearful to furious in the blink of an eye, but the actress is fiercely committed in all of them. Octagon regular Keiran Hill is the idealistic Larry, and he captures the poetic and passionate soul of the character from the moment he sets foot on stage.

The immortal trio of disreputable tea-drinkers, Mesdames Dorbell, Bull and Jike, are as enjoyably presented as I have ever seen them, particularly accordion-wielding Mrs Jike played with a salty East End relish by Annie Tyson. And Colin Connor as Sam Grundy is the epitome of a seedy back-street bookie with his brown bowler hat, fat cigar and wad of notes - a superbly menacing turn which casts an authentically dark tone over the whole production.

Director David Thacker’s decision to stage this play in-the-round is absolutely the right one, working well for both the intimate interior settings and the public scenes.

Judging by the enthusiastic responses from the audience at the post-show talk I attended, this still-topical play is going down a storm in Bolton - booking soon is highly recommended.

Love on the Dole is on at Bolton Octagon until Saturday 6 November 2010

Tickets: from £9.50

Eves: Mon-Sat @ 7.30pm

Matinees: Fri 17 Sep; Sat 2 & Wed 6 Oct @ 2pm

Box Office: 01204 520661



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