Ashes – Bolton Octagon

Ashes is as much a piece of art as a theatre production. It’s a piece that was first performed in 1974 that addresses the hardship that many couples went through in attempting to conceive. It explores a variety of social stigmas that were prevalent at the time surrounding sexuality and general day to day expectations of you as a person.

Written by David Rudkin, who is described accurately as “a veteran of the golden age of 50s and 60s new british theatre” – we sit down almost every week to watch a new play that mirrors this style. You may have heard of Afore Night Come (1962) or the radio play The Lovesong of Alfred Hitchcock (1993). Born in 1936, Rudkin still works on projects to this day.

David Thacker Directs. He has an incredible range of credits including 2 Olivier Awards, 150+ theatre productions and the award of an Honorary Doctorate (for services to theatre and television) from the University of Bolton to name but a few.

And its clear that this production is a labour of love as it undertakes its 2 week run at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton. It’s so good to see this top producing theatre varying in it’s programme to bring the old and the new.

The show itself is powerful and gripping. Set simply on a stunning, clinical set – truly reflecting the piece. The set alone wonderfully illustrates the harshness of the situation, whilst also giving you the feeling that you’re very much on the outside looking in. Which of course you are. A couple’s lives are unfolding in front of your eyes. Ciaran Bagnall (set and lighting) deserves high praise.


Four actors present the production. Seasoned pro John Branwell plays 4 separate characters and Kate Coogan plays 5. At no time do you feel like you don’t know what is going on and it is impressive to see such professionals at work.

The bulk of the action, quite literally in parts, comes from Katy Cavanagh (Anne) and Colin Connor (Colin). I personally recognise both as household names from Coronation Street but that alone is no bearing on their wide-ranging and impressive credits.

Both outstanding actors that truly project the pain and the gravity of the situation that their characters find themselves in.

Originally written as a one act, it is split over two. The character of Colin brings a secondary story for 15 minutes or so that isn’t essential to the plot but certainly adds further context albeit retrospectively.

This play isn’t the entertaining happy ending that most shows provide – but it is a strong piece delivered by some of the best in the business, worthy of it’s time on stage. A very firm 4 stars.

Ashes plays the Octagon Theatre Bolton until Saturday 11th March.

About Author /

Rob Stanway is the Founder of At The Theatre. He has reviewed the UK's best touring theatre (and much of the west end) for this website since 2005.

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