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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA

Octagon Theatre announce reopening dates

After 2 years of construction and a global pandemic the Octagon are thrilled to announce the new reopening date for the theatre’s town centre building as Friday 4 December. The reopening after a major redevelopment was due this summer but was delayed due to the impact of Covid-19.

In December the Octagon plans to open their Kitchen & Bar, a friendly space for casual eating, drinking and socialising, and host a number of creative workshops, along with a series of festive events to be announced soon. However, with the delay to the building caused by the pandemic and no date from the government of when it will be safe for audiences to return without social distancing, the theatre have taken the difficult decision to postpone their previously announced productions.

The new musical version of Charles Dickens’ festive classic A Christmas Carol will be postponed until Christmas 2021. The productions of Vinay Patel’s epic drama An Adventure and the world premiere of a new musical adaptation of the bestselling novel The Book Thief, both due to be staged in early 2021, will also be rescheduled with dates to be confirmed. The Young Octagon’s production of One Night in Bolton will be reimagined as a radio world premiere. The theatre aims to stage alternative productions in the main theatre from early 2021 with titles and ticket details to be announced in the autumn.

This new programme of productions and other activities are being planned on the assumption that social distancing will still be in place, in line with current government guidance. This will mean a significant loss in future revenue due to the need to restrict audience numbers. The theatre is encouraging supporters to join its Membership scheme as means of continuing their support during this challenging recovery period for the Octagon.

Chief Executive Roddy Gauld comments: “The last few years have been a real rollercoaster for the Octagon and I’m so relieved and delighted that we now have a new opening date. We enjoyed a record breaking 50th anniversary before two years working in different spaces across Bolton whilst the theatre was being redeveloped. We were so close to reopening when Covid-19 hit, and robbed us of not only our reopening but also risked our entire existence. The financial losses are huge and I’m so grateful to everyone who has supported us so far.

Although we’re getting ready to open the doors, we are still fighting for our future. Social distancing creates financial gaps as well as physical ones. We typically need at least 75% of seats to be sold in order for a show to be financially viable. Social distancing will reduce our capacity to just 25%. We have no choice but to postpone our planned shows and recognise that we’re far from over this crisis yet. Our staff are still on furlough and we have no guarantee of further government support.

What we do have is a fantastic new building that we will put to use in any way that we can. We’ll be running community projects, opening our Kitchen & Bar, and rehearsing new work for staging in 2021. We’ll announce a series of festive events later in the year too. I’m so happy with how the theatre is looking – I think people will be really impressed by the transformation. It’s a much more welcoming, accessible and comfortable place to visit.

The Octagon generates millions of pounds for Bolton every year and we welcome thousands of visitors from across the region. Opening our doors isn’t only about getting the theatre open – it’s about getting our town centre, our cultural life and the local economy going again. I’m incredibly grateful to all of our supporters, including Bolton Council and the Arts Council, whose funding has made the redevelopment possible. And I’m really excited to welcome people safely into the Octagon soon”.

Before the theatre reopens to welcome visitors, it continues to reach audiences digitally with a brand new online production co-produced with Guildford Shakespeare Company – a Zoom production of A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. Directed by Octagon Artistic Director Lotte Wakeham, this ‘made for online’ production will be available to watch live in the autumn with dates and ticket details to be announced Tuesday 1 September with priority booking available for Members.

Artistic Director Lotte Wakeham comments: “The incredible messages of support we have received throughout this time of upheaval have spurred us to look to the future of the Octagon. We’re more determined than ever that the Octagon will be the vibrant cultural hub that Bolton and the North West deserve.

We are currently developing an exciting new programme of work for December 2020 - Spring 2021 which will continue our 50 year tradition of making world class theatre in Bolton. It’s disappointing to not be able to present the season of work we had originally planned for the reopening of the theatre. However, the safety of our audiences, actors and staff must come first. This, along with the financial pressure we face as a result of social distancing, means that the only responsible action is to postpone our large, ambitious shows which were due to play to huge audiences. I’m grateful to all the brilliant local, national and international artists we’re working with for their patience and positivity. We are working on a new exciting programme to be announced in the autumn which I hope will be the start of our recovery towards a bold and adventurous future.

In the meantime, I am thrilled that we’ll be presenting our first ‘made for online’ live production this autumn. A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be fantastic fun and a great opportunity for audiences of all ages to engage with live theatre safely, until we can meet together in person. I look forward to sharing more details of our new productions which will take place in the theatre itself soon. We will be back, and we promise you it will have been worth wait! ”

The Octagon Future Fund launched in May has raised nearly £50,000 to support the theatre through the Covid-19 crisis. As a registered charity the theatre is reliant on support, and at this critical time for the arts industry the Octagon is asking audiences to sign up as Members to be part of the Octagon family at the same time as helping secure its future.

Head of Development Danielle Fearnley comments: “We have been so heartened by the warmth and generosity we have received for the Future Fund appeal so far, and we are really grateful to every single supporter. It is a clear indication of the love people have for their theatre, and every donation has helped us make it this far. As we continue in our fight for survival, joining as a Member is a brilliant way for anybody who believes in what we do to show their support long term. We have such incredibly loyal audiences and many people who wish the Octagon well; if they all become members from just £3 a month, they will be able to look forward to great rewards including priority booking and discounts at the same time as helping the Octagon continue on the road to recovery.”

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