“I believe everyone has the right to have access to brilliant theatre on their doorstep,” says Mark Babych, whose directing career has spanned 25 years.
And his latest play The Seafarer by Conor McPherson, which starts at The Octagon on Tuesday, will be the last in a long line of productions Mark has brought to Lancashire before he leaves to become
a freelance director.
Since joining the Octagon in 1999 the 43-year-old has received and been nominated for many personal awards, being a big player in the development of Bolton Octagon and the North West theatre scene.
Mark said the 40th anniversary season, last year, was the most challenging series of productions that the theatre had ever attempted in his decade with them. Among the highlights were TV star
Matthew Kelly performing alongside his son Matt Rickson in the satirical musical Oh What A Lovely War. In the same season Mark continued with the work of playwright Arthur Miller with a new version of The Crucible with the largest production The Octagon has ever staged including a cast of 18 actors.
And not forgetting one of Mark’s most famous works, his award-winning production of Blonde Bombshells of 1943 which is on tour for the third year.
As well as presenting professional theatre productions on a local level the Stockport born director has a reputation for championing actors from the northwest who have regularly featured in his
plays over the years. These have included Oswaldtwistle born Paul Simpson and Emmerdale’s Jeff Hordley from Manchester who both stared in one of Mark’s most successful Octagon productions, ‘And Did
“I chose local actors for the parts of my plays not because I wanted to use local talent but because they were the best for the part at auditions, they just often happened to be from the north
west. There was once a time when it was believed that you had to go to London if you wanted to succeed. And that you had to go to London to see good theatre, neither are true these days.”
Mark’s career began at Canterbury University where he was initially seduced by acting before realising it wasn’t for him. The director has enjoyed time at various youth and regional theatres before
applying for the job at Bolton, where he was initially only contracted to a handful of plays.
“When I first started here in summer 1999 the average cast size was four and even slipped down to two at one stage. It’s been a remarkable journey. One of my favourite productions was from when I
first joined, Neville’s Island,” said Mark, who lives in Sale. “There was three spontaneous rounds of applause before a single line was uttered, as the actors ‘swam’ on stage. I remember thinking
‘great I reckon we’re onto something good here.”
“I’m very proud that The Octagon has remained in the black for the last 10 years,” Mark went on. “That’s no mean feat for a theatre and although it’s not all about money, it’s an important factor.
“We are all aware of the current economic crisis and the theatre is a great way to escape the daily strains. But at the same time if people are to part with their cash we need to ensure they are
getting value for money.
“Working here has instilled in me values that I will never forget and confirms my belief that theatre still matters in our lives be it as an artist, a spectator, or a participant.”
And as far as the future goes, Mark is ambitious, with hopes for a move into TV. “I am willing to start anywhere in the television world. I know I will have to learn some new skills. I would love
to work on Spooks one day, it is fabulous and The Wire, but Six Feet Under would be the best for me.
“I’d like to continue to work in theatres and to teach one day but what’s important is the script has to set me on fire and
if that’s there it doesn’t matter where it is.”
• THE SEAFARER — Bolton Octagon, June 4 to 27. For tickets contact the box office on 01204 520661.
THE Bolton Octagon has released its new season brochure for the rest of this year and into 2010 with something for every theatre goer.
The wide-ranging repertoire presented by new artistic director David Thacker includes plays by Shakespeare, Ibsen and Miller, a world premiere, a musical and a revival of one of departing director
Mark Babych’s most successful productions ‘And Did Those Feet.’ The new season begins on September 10 with the world premiere of Mixed Up North, a tale of a theatre group hoping to unite divided
racial communities in the Lancashire mill town of Burnley.
Other highlights include a new version of Oliver Twist, a magical Midsummer Night’s Dream, the “intelligent and daring” Comedians, Ayub Khan-Din’s Rafta Rafta, and closing the season Melvyn Bragg’s
musical The Hired Man in June 2010.