by Aelish Michael.

Octagon Theatre Howell Croft South BL1 1SB To 7 May 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2pm.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.

TICKETS: 01204 520661.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 April.

Local drama topples in a heap..
In 2007, during its 40th Anniversary Season, the Octagon premiered And Did Those Feet, about Bolton Wanderers’ path to the 1923 FA cup. It was a popular, celebratory success that new Artistic Director David Thacker revived in his first season last year.

That success might have led to the programming of another local hero story, of TV-famed Bolton steeplejack Fred Dibnah. There’s plenty of potential in this cheerful-seeming working-class hero, who loved his job, even though he became famous for demolishing the tall industrial chimneys he actually preferred to restore.

Dibnah’s home (now a heritage centre) was a mix of English eccentricity, with its chimney and mine-shaft, limited only by planning regulations, and English engineering ingenuity with the workshop where, assisted by local enthusiasts, he restored the steam traction engine on which, film inserts indicate, he rode to Buckingham Palace when collecting his MBE.

Then there’s his meeting final wife Sheila, and the darkening mood as cancer took hold of him. In fact, these things dominate the play. And whereas Those Feet had skilled structuring and a mix of moods, aided by historical distance and a broad canvas, writer Aelish Michael seems slavishly stuck to the accounts of the final Mrs Dibnah.

In this constricted atmosphere, drama can hardly develop. Instead there’s an episodic trudge through Dibnah’s final period, with little sense of development or variety of viewpoint. Thacker’s direction is largely a matter of damage limitation, Dibnah’s three assistants entering and leaving each brief scene with no more to do than be an animated background, except when Malc argues with Mrs D.

Repeatedly, points are left unresolved. Sheila says she’ll improve her husband’s haphazard business arrangements. Does she? If so, how? Malc plots to remove her from Dibnah’s will. Does he succeed? Is it contested? What do the others think of his hatred for her? A single-viewpoint memoir is not a multi-viewpoint play.

Apart from Dibnah’s imagined meetings with his great Victorian predecessor Isambard Kindom Brunel, there’s little sense of what makes him tick. Generally, the filmed inserts provide most interest, though at the end even these become anti-climactic.

Bert: Mike Burnside.
Sheila Dibnah: Michelle Collins.
Fred Dibnah: Colin Connor.
Malc: John McArdle.
Keith: Richard Heap.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel/Mr TV: Huw Higginson.

Director: David Thacker.
Designer: James Correrill.
Lighting: Brent Lees.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Projections: Joe Stathers-Tracey.
Movement: Lesley Hutchison.
Fight director: Terry King.

2011-05-01 23:10:18

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