REVIEW: ‘Tull’, Octagon Theatre, Bolton, to March 16th

(L-R) Fiona Hampton, Marc Small, Tristan Brooke, Kieran Hill and Colin Connor who all play numerous characters. Photo by Ian Tilton

(L-R) Fiona Hampton, Marc Small, Tristan Brooke, Kieran Hill and Colin Connor who all play numerous characters. Photo by Ian Tilton

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Review: “Tull”, at the Octagon, Bolton, until March 16th.

That is what happened when I went to see Phil Vasali’s new play at the Bolton Octagon. Vasali has taken the incredible life of Walter Tull, born 1888, and turned it into a challenging, memorable play. Tull was one of the very earliest black footballers to play professional football, first for Spurs and then, after racist incidents, for Northampton. Then in 1914 he enlisted in the British army and served with such bravery and distinction that he was sent for Officer Training and became the first black commissioned officer in the British army. The story of his fascinating life should be much more widely known. With Artistic Director David Thacker, Vasili has created a stunning, fast moving re-creation of Tull’s life from childhood, a spell in an orphanage, his football career and his army service.

As the lights went down for the first few moments, I was nonplussed. The black circle of the stage is filled with actors in jeans, sweatshirts, all variations of contemporary casual dress. When the action begins, there are no props, actors leap from character to character in simple moves, standing up, turning, changing position.

However, every change is clearly delineated, a variation of posture, a different but well maintained accent. I realised I was watching a masterclass in acting. I wish to pay tribute to John Branwell, Tristan Brooke, Colin Connor, Fiona Hampton, Kieran Hill, Marc Small and Anna Tierney (an impressive professional debut). You all reinforce my admiration for theatre actors.

For Nathan Ives-Moiba, who plays Tull, I find it hard to believe this is your professional debut. Your athleticism and passion is the heart of this drama. The sound and lighting add much. Not only is this an enthralling production, it is thought provoking, covering issues like racism, the class struggles, the Suffragette movement for women, and pacifism.

An unconvential production, but I will remember it for a long time. Tull has never received the Military Cross, for which he was recommended, and sadly the final speech about the future hopes for non-racist football have not yet been fully achieved!

Box office: 01204 5206661. Website: www.octagonbolton.co.uk

PIPPA MUNRO HEBDEN