Tuesday 21 August 2018

Gulliver's Travels - Bolton Octagon Theatre Review at Queen's Park (until 27th Aug)

Last night we were guests of Bolton Octagon to review their brand new show - Gulliver's Travels. They are unable to use their building while it's being refurbished and this performance was taking place outdoors at Queen's Park. We had no idea how this was going to work. My 8 and 9 year old boys were very excited to see how a giant Gulliver was going to be portrayed in the park. I have to say that so was I...

It was excellent. Probably the cleverest and most ambitious project we'll see this year, with a huge cast and amazing backdrop, and executed beautifully.

Gulliver's Travels is, of course, the fantastical story of Gulliver, a brilliant storyteller who is shipwrecked and finds himself visiting several strange lands on his quest for home. This is the second of Bolton Octagon's 'Out and About' productions that we've seen - we also reviewed Summer Holiday earlier this year.

We'd been pre-warned that this is a performance with 4 different locations and involves walking in between, but you will also want to sit down during acts, so we took a couple of chairs and the boys sat on their coats at the front. The ground was damp, but thankfully not sodden.

If you've not been to Queen's Park, it has an amazing play area which my youngest made use of before we had to leave for the performance.

Neither my partner nor I are in full health, and the hardest bit of walking was from the Queen's Park car park up the hill to the start. Allow yourself time if you park on site because the play starts right at the top. Good news is you finish nearer the bottom (3/5 down maybe), so you don't have to cover the hill twice.

The walking during the performance is broken into small, strolling chunks, so it's easy enough for most with limited ability and the entire performance is also accessible to wheelchair users.

You can pre-book what looks like a really great pre-performance tea at the Queen's Park Cafe for a very fair price. A dentist appointment meant that we didn't have time, but up at the Chorley Road entrance, which is where the performance begins, there were also snacks, drinks and hot Carr's Pasties available before the performance and at the interval. £1.50 each - my boys were all well happy.

The action starts with Gulliver's daughter asking her father for a bedtime story, which then sails away into fantasy and after only 5 minutes we were all through the gates into the world of Lilliput.

This is when we saw the first touch of genius - most of the cast's costumes are rain macs.

This is an all-weather performance and we were lucky. We took brollies as insurance and it stayed dry. It wouldn't have mattered if it rained though - trust me. And it was 19 degrees, I didn't put my cardi on until near the end. I suggest light jackets, shoes you can walk in and a blanket or chair to sit on. You can even take a picnic if you want - wait until you are at the palace to eat it in style... and that's when you sit still longest.

Performances start at 7.15pm when it's light, and it goes dark around the second half after the interval. There are lights all through the park, so you are fine walking round in the dark and it's not scary for children - and we could always see where ours were.

The acting was great and the cast were nice and loud, so you could almost always hear everything very well. We recognised two of the main cast from Summer Holiday and I think A Christmas Carol. One of the Empresses was channelling Victoria Wood, I swear it and there was a real local humour, loads of topical puns and plenty of laughs. You believed the characters and you believed the puppetry. The story wasn't lost by the sheer size of the surroundings, only enhanced.

Seating wasn't a scramble because there was lots of space around each performance area, and it was quite easy to judge distance away that you should park chairs, so that blankets could go in front. All the kids sat at the front and my boys very quickly felt safe with the pack and ran ahead to the next locations, eager to find out what would be there.

There are several highlights and all of the well known scenes are there. The firing of arrows at a tied up Gulliver on the beach, the unfortunate incident with the fire and the Empress, and the sea battle. That was brilliant! The audience laughed and laughed. The main feature has to be the giant Gulliver though. He was easily 25-30 feet tall. When he stood up for the first time he really did seem to unfold into a giant.

We had an excellent time. The boys thought it was awesome and great fun, we were equally in awe that they pulled it off so well. There are some clever people at Bolton Octagon and you feel like you are watching a bunch of mates who will all be grinning at each other today. I hope so, they deserve it.

Gulliver's Travels will be performing at Queen's Park, Bolton until August 27th and tickets for all shows are still available. Find out more and book tickets on the Bolton Octagon website. They also have an excellent FAQ which answered everything I needed to know before I went. 

We attended free of charge for review.

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