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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA

Bill Naughton's beloved 1960s classic returns to the Octagon stage!

Review by Hilary Dawes

Directed by Lotte Wakeham, this brilliant adaptation of Bill Naughton’s well-loved play returns to the Octagon where we join the Crompton family as they struggle to cope with the ups and downs of life in 1960s Bolton.

Les Dennis is on fine form as patriarch Rafe Crompton, attempting to preside over his family with an iron fist, and we join them one Friday evening, as his wife Daisy struggles to balance the housekeeping books. Daisy’s accounting skills aren’t the best, and her problems worsen when nosy neighbour Betsy-Jane persuades Daisy to lend her £5. How will Daisy make up the deficit?

As the family sit down to tea, things come to a head as daughter Hilda refuses to eat the food on her plate, an event which continues to cause trouble all weekend. Rafe explains the reasons for his strict approach, evoking pre-war unemployment and hunger marches . Things later take a darker turn as Rafe attempts to determine which of the family has defied him.

We gradually see the children begin to assert themselves, realising that this is 1966, and the play’s soundtrack sets the tone, with Dylan’s “The Times they are a-Changin’” and the Who’s “My Generation”

With some great comedic moments, there is poignancy too, and we see the softer side of Rafe, as his wife reveals her deception and her fears of being unable to be the perfect housewife she ought to be. Rafe explains that everything he’s done has ultimately been for his family so they would never have to endure the same life of poverty he himself suffered during childhood.

Les Dennis’s superlative performance was perfectly matched by Mina Anwar’s beautiful portrayal of Daisy as the wife and mother constantly trying to keep the peace and make ends meet!

There were remarkable performances from the remaining cast members, with Isabel Ford as the wonderfully funny nosy neighbour Betsy-Jane. The Crompton siblings were played convincingly by Natalie Blair as rebellious Hilda and Monica Sagar as sensible Florence, both making their professional stage debuts, whilst Charlie Ryan as wise-cracking Harold and Gabriel Clark as the more sensitive Wilfred became thoroughly convincing brothers. Adam Fenton gave a fine performance as Florence’s pragmatic boyfriend, Arthur.

Katie Scott captured that sixties feel as we joined the family in their authentic living room set, with the black & white photo frames hanging above adding to the nostalgia. Thanks also to the rest of the creative team who gave us, literally, the “Sounds of the Sixties”!

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