Fresh, funny and heart-warming, THE BIG CORNER is an uplifting coming-of-age story which pays homage to Bill Naughton and Bolton’s rich past
In 1967, Bolton’s Octagon Theatre opened its doors for the first time with Bill Naughton’s ANNIE AND FANNY. Fifty years later, as the Octagon prepares to temporarily close its doors for refurbishment, former artistic director Lawrence Till makes a welcome return to his Bolton home with a new play, THE BIG CORNER.
Adapted from the short stories of Bill Naughton, THE BIG CORNER tells the story of Bill and Alf, two young Bolton lads hungry for adventure. Every night they meet at the “Big Corner” at the end of the road to tell – and exaggerate – the stories of their days. As they grow up, Bill and Alf discover the delights of friendship and the mystery of romance until one day, they both fall in love with the same girl.
Fresh, funny and heart-warming, THE BIG CORNER is an uplifting coming-of-age story full of hope, love, friendship and heartache. Using the corner at the end of the street as a catalyst for the stories, Till weaves together characters from famous Naughton stories such as Spit Nolan, Alfie Elkins and former beauty queen Maggie, with memoirs of Bolton life over the past 50 years.
The production brings together a cast of talented actors who play a multitude of roles, from the hilarious overbearing grandmother in SEEING A BEAUTY QUEEN HOME to Hetty, the pregnant mill worker from WEAVER’S KNOT, while Director Elizabeth Newman keeps the action flowing smoothly, using both movement and music to travel through time.
Harry Long impresses as Alf, the tall lad who, in his youth, tells some very tall tales, while Lauren Samuels is quietly charming as Jenny, the object of both Bill and Alf’s love. Jessica Baglow stands out for her beautiful singing vocals while Mitesh Soni provides the most laughs as he effortlessly switches between roles, most of which require him to be dressed as a woman.
But it is Dan Parr who steals the show as the shy, yet loveable Bill, breaking the fourth wall to engage with the audience, even dragging a woman from her seat at one point to take part in a scene.
Yet, while Till, has certainly crafted a love letter to Bolton with THE BIG CORNER, the short nature of many of the stories means we never really get to know the characters. At its heart, many of these stories are about friendship, family and how people get by during difficult circumstances, and as such, we need to feel an emotional connection with them. Yet, many of the characters feel undeveloped, including Alf, whose secret love for his best friend’s wife seemingly comes out of nowhere.
That said, there is plenty to like here with Till combining Naughton’s brilliant comic dialogue with some authentic emotional moments. This is also a fitting piece for Octagon’s 50th anniversary, paying tribute to both Naughton, as well as Bolton’s rich past.
THE BIG CORNER runs at Octagon Theatre, Bolton until 5 May 2018.
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.