Octagon Theatre in Bolton is about to premiere a timely new play Winter Hill, written by celebrated writer Timberlake Wertenbaker, and directed by Artistic Director Elizabeth Newman.
The stellar all-female cast that has been assembled are currently in rehearsal and Denise Black spoke to LTUK about the excitement being generated by this project.
Writer Timberlake Wertenbaker is one of Britain’s foremost playwrights. She is the recipient of various awards including the Olivier Award and the NY Drama Critics Award. “She had been given the idea to write something for The Octagon by the brilliant Liz Newman and this play Winter Hill and she stumbled on this idea that seems even more topical now than when it was conceived, not just for Bolton, but for all of us, everywhere.” The story revolves around a developer who is given permission to build a huge development, and the pay off for the local community is that a new school and other facilities will also be built. But then the budgets blow out and the community facilities are dumped. Some of the themes of the play revolve around the characters responding to political decisions that affect their community and how far they are prepared to go to fix it. Denise continued, “If things are going in a direction, and fast, in a direction that worries you, or is wrong, or dangerous, what do you do? And we’re a bunch of old women and we’re talking about it and trying to make a difference.”
The impressive cast includes BAFTA and Golden Globe nominated Cathy Tyson, Louise Jameson, Fiona Hampton, Janet Henfrey, Souad Faress, Eva-Jane Willisand Susan Twist – all known for their many film and television roles and extensive theatre credits. Denise Blacksaid of her fellow cast members, “we have an amazing cast, there’s eight of us, and they’re truly amazing.”
Denise explained that basically the structure of the play is a “who-dunnit” full of intriguing quandaries that will keep the audience engaged and on the edge of their seats. “A load of events happen, Timberlake turns it into a jigsaw puzzle, you put the pieces together and try to work it out.” In Winter Hill, Denise plays the role of an activist, and she told me how it prompted her to join Greenpeace, in an effort to play a more active role in her own politics, “I don’t know how economies work, I don’t know the solutions to world peace, I don’t know how to run countries, I know that you can only try to do good, on a local level. I don’t agree with everything that Greenpeace do, but at least they try.”
The Octagon Theatre has a proud fifty-year tradition of producing ambitious theatre with particular focus on the local community and giving a voice to their issues, “The Octagon Theatre is unique, not meaning to be rude, but often theatre is a very middle-class preserve, but here it’s more visceral. We see different age groups, different kinds of people, and you feel more strongly that it’s ‘their’ theatre and I think it has a wonderful dynamic,” Denise says.
I suggested that perhaps a play of this nature would surely have a life beyond Bolton and The Octagon Theatre and Denise agreed, “it would be lovely to see this go from the production here, to beyond, spread the word.”
Winter Hill will be playing at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, from May 11th until June 3rd.
*Lead photo by Ray Jefferson