FROM playing an elf at the age of four to directing at some of the country’s most prestigious theatres, David Thacker knows only too well the pleasure and power of the stage.

Now the artistic director of The Octagon Theatre, Bolton, is inviting people to experience the drama, comedy and passion that is on their doorstep.

With a successful fourth season under his belt, the Olivier Award winner wants people to pay The Octagon a visit when the next set of plays kicks off in September, with An Inspector Calls followed by Long Day's Journey Into Night.

He said: “I think one of our main challenges we are very passionate about, all of us, is to try to encourage people who wouldn’t normally come to theatre to give it a go.

“I’m a great believer in the fact that people who would not think of going to the theatre would really like it if they would give it a chance.”

David has directed more than 150 theatre productions, including plays by Shakespeare, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, having worked with actors including Trevor Eve, Helen Mirren, Vanessa Redgrave and David Tennant.

Speaking of his first foray into the world of theatre, he said: “My family were devout Methodists and I used to be in the Sunday school pantomimes every year, starting off from age four, playing an elf.

“Sometimes I was quite naughty. The naughtiest was when we did Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and I was one of the dwarfs, Doc. On one matinee, we all flicked jelly into the audience and got badly told off.

“I used to watch pantomimes and plays put on by the amateur dramatic societies, part of the church. Then my real serious theatre-going started when I used to take girls for posh dates to the Northampton Theatre Royal. I thought it might impress them. It didn’t work.”

He may not have got the girl, but a passion for theatre was ignited and David ended up directed plays while studying English at York University.

He said: “There was an incredibly strong drama society that was very open and encouraging of people who had never really done anything before to get involved.

“I ended up directing plays as part of that and found I had an aptitude for it. Not only that but it gave me a lot of pleasure.”

He went on to work at eight producing theatres, including director-in-residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the director of the Young Vic, theatre director at the Dukes Playhouse, Lancaster, where he met his wife, actress Margot Leicester, and at London’s National Theatre.

The father-of-four said: “We took a production of Shakespeare’s Pericles to Edinburgh, that I later directed for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“We did a performance at a long-term jail for serious criminals. Sitting on the front row was Brady, the Moors Murderer.

“One of the things that’s very moving, powerful about this play, there’s a scene at the end when Pericles has had a nervous breakdown and he thinks his wife and his daughter are dead.

“Then this young woman comes to meet him and neither knows who the other is. There’s this very powerful, moving scene where Pericles realises this it is his daughter who he thought was dead.

“A lot of the prisoners were crying, weeping when they experienced this and it made me realise how powerful an effect theatre could have on people who you thought might not be moved or affected by it.”

Looking back on last season, he said: “We try to present a wide range of high-quality plays that inspire people, sometimes make them laugh, sometimes make them cry and feel that the theatre event has had some impact on their lives.

“The two American plays that we did, Of Mice and Men and The Glass Menagerie, I would say both of those plays were very powerful for the audience.

“With Of Mice and Men, more people came to see that more than any play in the history of The Octagon, as far as figures go back.

“11,500 people came to see it. Quite a lot of those were school parties.”

And looking to the future, he said: “There’s no doubt The Octagon faces enormous challenges because of the economic situation and the government’s policy of cuts.

Bolton Council have been fantastic supporters of The Octagon and I think the councillors understand how important The Octagon is to the town. “We just hope that they will be able to support the theatre as they have done because very small cuts in our funding would make a huge difference to the nature of the operation.”

But mostly David is urging the people of Bolton to come along and see what is on offer.

“Give the first two plays a try, see what you think, if you like those, there will be a lot more in the season you will enjoy.

“Trust The Octagon if you want The Octagon to survive. Trust it because it is your theatre.”

n A number of season ticket options are available, including 10 productions for £120. Visit