Premiere for Fred play

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Review: “The Demolition Man,” at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, until May 7th

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The Bolton Octagon’s production of The Demolition Man is a world premiere.

Written by Aelish Michael, it is based on the life of Fred Dibnah, one of the town’s much-loved sons, famed for his TV programmes about demolishing chimneys and exploring industrial history on his steam engine.

The events of the drama follow the last few years of Fred’s life, his third marriage, to Sheila, the rebuilding of his beloved engine and his last illness. The first act is amusing, relying mostly on Fred’s salty humour.

Colin Connor gives a remarkable impersonation of Fred, Michelle Collins is his new young wife and Huw Higginson plays the “spirit” of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Fred’s hero, and Mr TV, the producer of Fred’s programmes. There is a clever use of three huge screens above the stage to represent the filming of interviews.

However, there is not much more than several witty lines and a reminder of the male chauvinism of many northern men. At the interval I was wondering about why a director of David Thacker’s stature would have fostered this new play. The second act answered my question.

It is powerful, dramatic and moving. Here there is conflict, emotion and a depth of character exploration, all the things that make for good drama, made all the more poignant, perhaps, because it is based on a real person.

We see the complex relationship between Fred and Sheila and the influence, both good and bad, of his friends, Bert (Mike Burnside), Malc (John McArdle) and Keith (Richard Heap). Colin Connor’s interpretation of his role becomes more subtle, Michelle Collins has more opportunity for expressing a range of feelings.

Fred’s death of cancer, nursed by Sheila, is well portrayed and when the big screens showed film of the real Fred’s funeral, his coffin borne by his engine, I had a lump in my throat.

The Octagon’s next production is another world premiere, “Secret Thoughts”, by David Lodge, based on his novel “Thinks”, an exploration of love and deception.