Lotte Wakeham has set out her vision for the theatre, which includes “tonnes of participatory work” as the venue undergoes a major capital redevelopment.

Photo of Lotte Wakeham

Jonathan Keenan Photography

Octagon Theatre Bolton has chosen a new Artistic Director to take creative control of the organisation as it undergoes a multi-million-pound renovation, due to be completed by Spring 2020.

Lotte Wakeham, who is currently wrapping up a one-year role as Associate Artistic Director of Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, will join the Octagon from February 2019.

She takes over from Elizabeth Newman, who was with the organisation for eight years, including three years as Artistic Director. Newman moved to Pitlochry Festival Theatre in September.

Wakeham told AP she was attracted to the role because of the artistic versatility of the Octagon theatre space, which is set up in the round, but offers the capacity for this arrangement to be reconfigured if required. “It’s an incredible space to make work in and experience as an audience member and has such a fantastic reputation over the past 50 or so years,” she said. “It’s done brilliant revivals and has done new writing – Jim Cartwright and Charlotte Jones came up through there. 

“Stephen Joseph also has a very similar set up, so it also felt like familiar territory.”

She explained that her artistic vision for the venue is to include “tonnes of community and participation work” and continue serving the community in Bolton. “I talked a lot in the application process about my taste as a theatre maker for creating work that’s popular but also bold and adventurous, and I’ve been thinking about the audience – there’s a fantastic, very loyal audience for the theatre’s work,” she said. “But the capital project is a great opportunity to reach out to new people to do more new writing to look at talent development for local actors, writers and directors.”

Work has just begun on the £10m redevelopment project, which will improve backstage and production facilities and increase accessibility. The theatre plans to reopen in Spring 2020, with work continuing off-site in the meantime – including a Christmas production at the Bolton Wanderers football stadium.

Wakeham joins the organisation after eight years with the Royal Shakespeare Company, starting as an assistant director of the musical Matilda in Stratford and later becoming an associate director in the West End and New York. Reflecting on her career, which has seen her direct work at subsidised and commercial venues across the UK, including Leicester Curve and Southwark Playhouse, she told AP: “I’ve done a very varied mix of stuff – plays, musicals, comedies, Shakespeare, new writing, with big casts and two or three-handers. 

She said she was most proud of the show she’s currently working on at Stephen Joseph theatre: the regional premiere of ‘Jess and Joe Forever’. “I’m really excited to bring it to Yorkshire audiences. There’s a lot that’s sweet about it and it’s quite progressive in different ways. I’m proud of that as an example of a piece which is new and just loved by audiences, and telling an interesting and important story and bringing new talent to the stage.”

Wakeham will work closely with Roddy Gauld, Chief Executive of the Octagon Theatre. He praised her versatility and ability to create shows of “quality, flair, fun and warmth”.

“There were a number of very high calibre candidates for this role, making it a difficult choice. Lotte Wakeham stood out as the right person,” he said.

“During the recruitment, Lotte proved herself to be a thoughtful leader and collaborator, with new vision and inspiration to build on our previous success. I'm thrilled to welcome Lotte to the Octagon, to be working with her on re-opening the theatre in 2020 and planning an exciting future.”