Winter Hill

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Bolton Octagon

Writer  Timberlake Wertenbaker

Director Elisabeth Newman

Cast Denise Black, Souad Faress, Fiona Hampton, Janet Henfrey, Louise Jameson, Susan Twist, Cathy Tyson and Eva-Jane Willis

This is a new play by acclaimed  playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker which on paper has lots to recommend it. Winter Hill is directed by one of the youngest Female Artistic Directors in the country and stars a cluster of respected actresses and a great big hunk of rock near Bolton. Having a love of strong, feisty women, politics, literature and big, craggy hills this was ticking lots of boxes. Sadly this was a mishmash of poorly defined ideas and heavy handed caricatures of older women which ended up feeling like Last of The Summer Wine with Semtex.

The story of a book group compromised of a cluster of women who are all of a certain age with a back story of radical activism and feminism. Dolly played with gutsy aplomb by Denise Black is a women ready to ramp up her activism and intends to blow up this hotel as a fingers up to big business. She is supported in varying degrees by the other women. The ensuing events are fragmented by jumps in time as her daughter tries to piece together what really happened on the Hill and we see the survivors broken and incarcerated in a range of ways. The message seems to be that women cannot have it all. You cannot be an activist mother and bake with your daughter or plant a bomb to make a noble statement without making a total hash of it

The staging feels curiously unfinished as it is a mess of scaffolding, builders tools and masonry so it often feels likes watching a bunch of  intelligent older actresses rehearsing rather than seeing a polished end result. The messy stage is of course the building site of a partially constructed hotel on top of Winter Hill in Bolton. Not just any hotel but one fit for Russian obligachs and world leaders with a helipad AND a runway!! The problem with this plot device is its improbability as Bolton is not an obvious location for billionaires and its feels somewhat uncomfortable to allude to so many flight options when Winter Hill was the scene of an actual air disaster.

There is some really strong acting from a great cast and it feels like there is a genuine camaraderie of the Sisterhood on stage. I imagine Elisabeth Newman and the cast have had a lot of fun working on this project and the passion and commitment shines through. The play explores literary heroines, feminism, green issues, activism, terrorism and a host of other issues. The script struggles to cover so many major issues adequately while flitting in and out of time frames and attempting to convey drama and humour and lot of big preachy speeches and pithy one liners. The end result is a mess of good ideas and important issues which never get fully realised.

Perhaps the biggest frustration with the play is it feels like a wasted opportunity to show talented women of a certain age on the stage being unique and vibrant and thoroughly alive. However if you like your menopausal women badly dressed, a bit bonkers and as hot headed as their hormonal flushes with weak bladders and a penchant for books and booze then this is the play for you.

Until Sat 3 June

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