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Theatre Review Soft-focus tribute to a gritty working-class writer

The Big Corner
Octagon Theatre, Bolton

 

BOLTON’S Octagon theatre is celebrating 50 years at the cultural heart of the town, half a century in which it has told many incredible stories that have made Boltonians laugh, cry and get angry, scared or delighted.

 

Telling stories was the lifeblood of the town's great Bill Naughton, a true working-class writer who, from the age of seven, carried a diary much the way an artist carries a sketchbook, noting snippets from ordinary lives in the streets, factories and homes where he grew up. Over the years, Naughton laced these pieces together to create some of the best narratives about 20th-century working-class life.

 

Naughton is best known for Alfie and Spring and Port Wine but these were a tiny fraction of the short stories, plays and novels that flowed from his prolific pen and, as the Octagon reaches its half century, what better time to rekindle interest in this important writer.

 

Lawrence Till, former artistic director at the theatre, has penned a new play based loosely on some of Naughton’s short stories. The Big Corner refers to the street corner where children played and men gathered to exchange sketchy knowledge of sex or gamble while, it would seem, women just worked.

 

Till’s play follows the lives of Bill, Alfie, Spit, May and Jenny from childhood to old age, reflecting on their ups and downs as they struggle with life among Bolton’s poor. Although a touching tribute, The Big Corner is more about nostalgia whereas Naughton’s work sought out the soul beneath the grime, where poverty clung to the people like the dust spewing from the woollen mills that dominated the town.

 

While the play looks back fondly on the man and his time Naughton, I think, would have wanted some of that grime as well.

 

Runs until May 5, box office: octagonbolton.co.uk

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