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The Demolition Man at Bolton Octagon

Published by: Caroline May on 11th Apr 2011 | View all blogs by Caroline May

One of the most prominent Boltonians of recent years was steeplejack, steam enthusiast and all-round Lancashire character Fred Dibnah, much loved for his television programmes celebrating engineering, Victorian architecture and the vanishing remains of the industrial revolution.  So it’s only appropriate that a dramatisation of his life by local writer Aelish Michael should receive its world premiere at Bolton Octagon.

 By focussing on Fred’s last decade the structure of the drama is almost ready-made.  We meet Fred at his lowest point, having just divorced wife number two and lost custody of his young sons.  The last thing he needs is to hear that his TV series isn’t being re-commissioned.  Concerned friends Malc, Keith and Bert realise things are serious when Fred can’t even summon up the energy to fettle his steam engine.  But then glamorous magician’s assistant Sheila enters Fred’s life and casts a spell that reinvigorates both him and his career.

 The first half of this play is hilarious, with typical down-to-earth Lancashire characters and delightful wordplay rooted in the local vernacular.  And the courtship of Sheila in the shed is the most unlikely wooing scene since Richard III got it together with Lady Anne over the corpse of her late father-in-law.

 Colin Connor’s Fred is the spitting image of the man – the facial likeness is uncanny, the voice is precise, he even captures the waddling gait.  And if there is something a bit cartoon like about him it only adds to the comedy, although it’s slightly less successful in the play’s poignant second half.

 By way of contrast, Michelle Collins’s take on Mrs Dibnah The Third is a naturalistic portrayal of a lively and attractive woman who cares passionately for her husband.  Michelle Collins is excellent in all facets of the role and steals the show by becoming the heroine of the story.

 Mike Burnside as Fred’s golden-hearted pal Bert and John Mcardle as the Machiavellian silver fox Malc are also memorable and multi-layered.

 James Cotterill’s design feels like being in a real engineering works, partly because of the authentic accumulation of clutter and junk on stage, and partly due to the vast sense of space he creates above and behind the playing area.  Joe Stathers-Tracey’s video projections shown on three screens high above the stage make for an arresting and original opening when Fred descends from the gods on a rackety ladder in the middle of a storm – a truly dramatic moment. 

 Like a precision engineer, director David Thacker has fettled a believable world for this very local story – one the press night audience seemed to relate to very strongly.  No doubt this will be as big a success for the Octagon as their smash hit And did Those Feet.

 The Demolition Man is on at Bolton Octagon until Saturday 7 May 2011

Tickets: from £9.50

Performances: Mon-Sat @ 7.30

Matinees: Fri 8, Sat 16, Wed 20 Apr, Wed 4, Sat 7 May @ 2pm 

Box Office: 01204 520661



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