Whilst the country continues to bask in record-breaking hot weather and enjoy the feel-good factor of a Royal Wedding, in Bolton, the Octagon Theatre is preparing to open its much-anticipated site-specific version of Summer Holiday. Directed by Artistic Director, Elizabeth Newman, the popular 60’s musical is the first show to be performed away from the Octagon whilst the theatre undergoes a period of extensive refurbishment.
Performed in sites close to the town centre including the Bolton bus and railway interchange this is a production where the cast and the audience will be driven from scene to scene in a fleet of buses. The cast of Summer Holiday is headed by Michael Peavoy who plays Don, the role immortalised for many by Cliff Richard in the iconic film. Michael Peavoy is no stranger to Octagon audiences having already appeared in productions of The Railway Children, Jane Eyre and Hamlet. Michael has also made memorable appearances at the Royal Exchange Theatre playing Anthony in Sweeney Todd and The Wolf/Cinderella’s Prince in Into The Woods.
In the lead up to opening night, Michael took time out of rehearsals to talk about performing in Summer Holiday and also share his thoughts about performing in the old and revamped Octagon Theatre.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy rehearsal schedule to talk to The Reviews Hub. What is it like to be playing the lead role in this iconic feel good, summer musical?
I don’t really think of Don as a lead role in the production as this version is such an ensemble piece! Of course, Cliff Richard starred in the film but the stage production is very much collaboration and we’re all going to be pumping out the joy together in this brilliant show. I guess I get to sing a few of Cliff’s (and The Shadows!) classic songs and they are a LOT of fun to perform. From 50’s rock to swing, there’s such a range of styles in the production and the live music in this version makes it a joy – we get to sing together as a band every day and it’s awesome! I should explain – it’s an ‘actor-musician’ show so the cast play the music, sing the music and they’re all INCREDIBLE!
In preparing to be in the show have you watched the film version with Cliff Richard and if so what did you learn from it?
I’ve steered clear of the film. I’ve seen it before, years ago, but I think we all approach roles as individual artists and whilst Cliff is very much a genius, I like to have a ‘blank canvas’ of sorts in my head that we can fill in the rehearsal room based on the work we do with Elizabeth and Ben, our directors, and the formidable secret weapon of the Octagon Lesley Hutchinson. I think, sometimes, the danger of watching other people’s work is their choices can influence yours and we’re in the game of discovery in the room you’re in with the people you’re with all working together to create something in that moment.
Is it true that in this show you will be driving a bus?
We are going to be performing on buses; Vision Buses in Bolton have sorted Don and the Lads out with a small fleet to take us and the audience on an adventure together to Paris. It’s very exciting! Once we’ve fixed up our bus at the Bolton Interchange we’ll all pile onto the buses and go off on a sing-a-long jaunt until we bump into DoReMi in a Town Square somewhere in France…
You have appeared in several critically acclaimed productions at the Octagon playing roles ranging from Rochester in Jane Eyre to Perks in The Railway Children, what do you like about performing in the space and how does it differ to other theatres you have worked in?
I think it’s more about the people than the space. Bricks make buildings and people make theatres. I’ve been so lucky over the past 12 months to work with, and alongside, some really inspiring humans both on and off the Octagon stage. Elizabeth Newman asked me to play Gilbert in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall just over a year ago now and it’s the passion, kindness and dedication of Elizabeth and her team that kept me – and many others – coming back here. They really are sensational artists, leaders and humans and their commitment to the people of Bolton and the integrity of Elizabeth, Ben and the team have is unmatched. It’s no surprise the theatre has just been named a Theatre of Sanctuary because this building is a place of openness, comfort and hope for so many people. I’ve also been lucky to meet and work with some of the brilliant youth participants, the Bridges group and the over 55 ArtBeat group – they’re the pulse of the building really because this theatre is theirs. Not forgetting the most important group – the audience. The Octagon audience are kind, supportive and VERY honest. I’ve loved every moment I’ve had in front of them and can’t wait to share Summer Holiday with them.
You are an accomplished musical performer is there a role that you are still yearning to play?
George in Sunday in the Park With George, Sweeney Todd and, just to satisfy my younger self I’d have a good crack at Jean Valjean on the proviso that my good friend (and DoReMi superstar!) Rob Jackson plays Javert opposite me! (It was a dream of ours when we both went to Pendleton College!)
You have appeared in a couple of musicals by Stephen Sondheim why do you think his shows are so popular with performers and audiences alike?
I think it’s because Sondheim is about story and character not about writing show tunes. His work, like Shakespeare, is SO intricate and detailed and a lot of the time you aren’t aware of it (particularly as an audience member) but you know something ‘other’ is going on. For actors, I think most have a love-hate relationship with his work because initially, his music can feel a little oppressive in the sense that you have to be really on his notes, rhythm and timing whereas other composers give the singer more freedom. Once you’ve got it in your bones though and you ‘get’ why Sondheim made the choices he did you start to realise his genius and, we hope, his little intricate gifts that nourish the work and perversely free up the actor to be totally truthful.
Regional musicals have begun to appear on a regular basis in the West End, what do you think lies behind their success?
The quality of the work first and foremost, but we mustn’t hold the West End as the ultimate prize or yardstick for quality. We’re also seeing commercial producers using and co-producing with publicly funded ‘regional’ theatres. With that, they can have actors on the sub-rep agreement, which means we’re cheaper, and most regional producing theatres can build sets and have resident (and often amazing) technical teams who know the spaces and how to work efficiently together. Added together there’s less risk and if it doesn’t work out commercially the loss is smaller/shared. Then there is, of course, the theatres that just produce exceptional and exciting work that demands to be seen by wider audiences Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, being a recent example! All in all, it’s a hugely positive thing because it could and should encourage audiences to travel further afield to see theatre – which can only be a good thing. It may also, hopefully, make our national funding bodies and government realise that investment in local theatres is not only good for the local communities they’re in but for everyone else too!
Have you any plans to return to the revamped Octagon after the refurbishment and as a performer what differences do you think you will notice most?
It’s a very exciting prospect and the added accessibility is the most wonderful thing. I think a comfortable and diverse audience is a happy audience so if they’re happy we’re happy. Who knows if I’ll be invited back again!
And finally if you could go anywhere for a summer holiday where it would be?
Ohhhhh…. I’d tour the globe! I’ve always wanted to trek through the Amazon rainforest – maybe I’ll get to it before they chop it all down! If not, I love the idea of visiting a Buddhist temple in the mountains of Tibet!
Summer Holiday is playing at Bolton Interchange and the Octagon Theatre Bolton from Thursday 31 May to Saturday 23 June Tickets available here.
Richard Hall | Image: Contributed