MORE than 20,000 litres of top soil, 700 sandbags and 200 metres of steel have helped transform a Bolton theatre stage into a World War One trench.

The Octagon Theatre will launch its new season on Thursday with Journey’s End, hailed as one of the greatest war plays ever written and programmed to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War.

The set has been created by designer James Cotterill with the hope it will plunge the audience into the unforgiving trench environment and difficulty of life on the frontline.

The production staff have been busy filling 700 hessian sandbags with 21,000 litres of top soil, which have been placed around the edge of the stage.

By filling sandbags with sterilised soil, rather than sand, the scent of the set will also help convey the harsh living conditions of the World War One.

Olly Seviour, the Octagon’s head of production, said: “Construction of the Journey’s End set has been quite a mammoth task, as the design is so dramatic.

“In an effort to maintain the illusion as much as possible, walkways have been covered with wood, corrugated steel has been positioned around the upper floor balcony and, of course, there’s huge quantities of mud and sandbags.

“The overall effect is completely engrossing and we’re delighted with how it looks.”

Westland Horticulture, based in Cambridgeshire, has provided the soil at a heavily discounted rate in honour of the centenary.

Mr Seviour added: “We did face a few obstacles, the biggest of which was finding a clean, safe soil that would not pose a hazard to the actors or audience.

“Westland’s top soil is a sterilised graded soil that has an accompanying data sheet to prove that it has undergone rigorous tests to ensure it poses no risk.

“Also, due to the large volume of theatres, TV and film companies producing First World War dramas in honour of the centenary, we had to plan very early where we would get uniforms from.

"The costumes, which are incredibly authentic, were eventually sourced from a company in Suffolk and we purchased nine replica World War One rifles.”

Chris Glynn, Westland Horticulture sales rep, said: “We were keen to get involved because of the connection with the First World War centenary.

“We were delighted to help the theatre get the top soil they required to allow the production to have as authentic an atmosphere as possible.

"This is the first time we have delivered top soil to a theatre.”

Timber from 50 scrap pallets, 100 scaffolding boards and 200 metres of corrugated steel, all recycled materials, have also been assembled throughout the auditorium.

Journey’s End, based on writer RC Sherriff’s own experiences of life as a soldier and originally performed in 1928, follows the lives of a group of soldiers as they battle against constant fear and the futility of warfare.

Directed by David Thacker, it is at the Octagon until Saturday, October 4.

Tickets cost from £10 to £26.50. Phone 01204 520661 or visit