Northern plays are made for the Bolton Octagon. None more so than Bill Naughton’s The Family Way, the theatre’s latest production, which is set in the Lancashire town during the early 60s.
Centred around young newlyweds Violet (Jessica Biaglow) and Arthur (Harry Young) the play follows their journey into married life and their struggle to consummate their vows whilst under the roof of their parents!
Director Elizabeth Newman is at the helm once again in this production and she doesn’t disappoint. With an impressive Octagon CV already (most notably with Love Story and Separation) Newman makes sure this delivers a good mix of touching, funny and poignant moments, keeping the audience transfixed to the action as it unfolds.
There’s no getting over the fact this is an old-fashioned story which, for the modern audience could get lost in its northern phrases and dated views, but it doesn’t. Instead it provides an entertaining two hours and thirty minutes (including the interval) of a heart-warming story with some great performances put in from the cast.
Talking of the actors you will spot a few familiar faces if you have ever frequented the Octagon before. David Birrell makes a return after his success run in Journey’s End (for which he won Best Actor in a Supporting Role at this years Manchester Theatre Awards). Birrell puts in a fine performance as the overbearing patriarch Ezra Fitton who can’t seem to understand his sensitive son Arthur and struggles to come to terms with the fact they are like chalk and cheese. He executes Naughton’s dialogue just as it was intended, with a northern brashness which brings with it a dry humour: ‘All this reading books he does, it’s not natural’.
Alongside him is another Octagon regular Barbara Drennon as his put up on wife Lucy, a woman eager to keep the peace between father and son. The scenes between her and Birrell are particularly well played out as the pair go from throwing ‘digs’ at each other to being particularly moving in their obvious love.
There’s no denying the first act is a slow watch at times as it sets the scene for what is to follow but stick with it as after the interval the action steps up a notch with some hilarious scenes which will have you in stitches.
Watch out too for Amanda Stoodley’s clever set design, which manages to emphasis the cramped terrace house Arthur and Violet are forced to live in. Amanda clutters the stage with furniture, even adding an extra row of seats (wooden chairs from the period) for the audience to get closer to action and get a sense of that ‘trapped’ feeling.
If you’ve seen the 1966 film of the same name with Hayley and John Mills (father and daughter duo) in the roles of Violet and Ezra you will probably love this production even before it starts but if, like me, you have never seen it before you will find yourselves leaving the Octagon wanting to dig out a copy so you can have a second helping of this wonderful Naughton piece of work.
Runs until 3rd October 2015