Sneak peek comes as the Bolton treasure prepares to finally reopen later this year
It was initially planned for last summer, and then (at least partially) in December…but COVID-19 had other ideas for the Octagon Theatre’s grand reopening. Now the Bolton treasure is hoping to at last reveal its £12 million transformation in person later this year, subject to the successful lifting of lockdown restrictions in June.
First though, ahead of its final finishing touches, the Octagon team have released a sneak peek of what to expect from the building’s modernisation - which includes updated performance spaces, brand-new participation facilities, improved front-of-house experience and expanded backstage amenities.
Octagon Chief Executive, Roddy Gauld, commented: “After what has been a tumultuous 12 months, we are now excited to be looking to our future as we plan our reopening. The Octagon is an incredible creative and cultural hub for Bolton and we hope these first glimpses inside the redeveloped building will lift people’s excitement as we get ready to welcome the public back through our doors!
“The reimagined Octagon benefits from more internal space; is more environmentally friendly; has vastly improved accessibility; and enhanced customer and backstage facilities for everyone’s comfort. The building needed a new roof and major modernisation of its electrics and plumbing and I’m pleased to say is now fit for generations to come.
“This redevelopment wouldn’t have been possible without investment from Bolton Council and Arts Council England, other funders and the 12,000 donors who have supported us. We’re incredibly grateful to everyone who has backed us.
“The pandemic has hit Bolton particularly hard, and the Octagon is now ready to play a leading role in our town’s recovery and future. We know people are looking forward to live entertainment and I don’t think the theatre could be more needed or more capable than it is right now!”
Since theatres closed on 16 March 2020, the Octagon has continued to host happenings via digital online platforms. Audiences have been able to enjoy live performances and events including a live Zoom production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream; a broadcast reading of A Christmas Carol; a festive online quiz hosted by Mina Anwar and family StoryMaker’s readings.
Its engagement programme, meanwhile, has provided creative opportunities online - with over 3000 participants taking part in workshops, youth theatre, over 50s theatre club and music sessions - as well as delivering creative care kits to support wellbeing for those without internet access.
The venue has also continued to support local freelance artists through its incubation residencies, open auditions, participation in the freelance task force and by teaming up with other local theatres to create Greater Manchester Artist Hub.
Thanks to public support, its Future Fund public fundraising appeal has raised £84,697.48.
With the roadmap for theatres to reopen now looking clearer, the Octagon is preparing to raise the curtain on an exciting new chapter.
Leader of Bolton Council and the Greater Manchester portfolio lead for culture, Cllr David Greenhalgh, said: “The new images of the Octagon are fantastic and showcase to residents the excellent facilities waiting for them once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. We are proud to support the redevelopment of one of Bolton’s greatest cultural assets which is a key part of our town centre regeneration plans.
“I am looking forward to visiting once the Octagon opens and seeing the venue flourish with its impressive new design and features.”
Find more info about the Octagon by visiting octagonbolton.co.uk.
Arts and entertainment - where do we stand?
Monday 22 February saw the announcement everyone had so long been waiting for; the roadmap out of lockdown. But relief at finally having dates to work towards quickly turned to worry - how would arts and entertainment survive until the dates announced? These were namely 17 May (reopening for cinemas and museums/galleries, plus indoor performances and sporting events with restricted audiences) and 21 June (the fourth and final reopening stage, which will hopefully see all limits lifted - promising a return to full capacity for the likes of theatres and gig venues, as well as the reopening of nightclubs).
There was some relief in the budget, announced 3 March - including tax relief, extended furlough and more funding; including towards the Culture Recovery Fund - but concerns remain, from the lack of northern investment to inadequate public service funding and support for the self-employed, despite two more grants.
Michael Kill from the Night Time Industries Association also criticised ‘the chancellor’s inability to comprehend the specific challenges faced by night time economy businesses - such as nightclubs, casinos and bars - many of which have been entirely unable to open during the pandemic and face higher costs relative to wider hospitality. With no meaningful expansion to CRF eligibility, and no bespoke support for our sector, we are once again left with a package totally incommensurate with businesses’ costs - including spiralling commercial rent arrears. The loan solutions outlined by the chancellor just aren’t good enough for businesses that are already overburdened with debt.’
Tonight is the first night of #LightItInRed week! We will be lit up every night this week, as we mark one year since our doors closed 🔴 @LightItInRed pic.twitter.com/y56ooXyWfx
— The Lowry (@The_Lowry) March 15, 2021
Kill also expressed disappointment that ‘the chancellor didn’t take this opportunity to introduce a Government-backed insurance scheme for events this summer. Our world-leading festivals are at the heart of the UK’s cultural life - but because of the announcement today, so many events will be needlessly cancelled, or postponed to 2022.’
As with much of the COVID-19 story, it’s a mixed bag of successes and setbacks; one that has since seen the Music Venue Trust announce 20 grassroots music venues are still at risk of permanent closure and entertainment venues like The Lowry (above) turn emergency red, as Manchester Central plans its full return to events following the closure of Nightingale hospitals from April and summer happenings start to once again fill our calendars.