THE windswept, isolated, peak that forms the title of this magnificent new play is a striking feature of Bolton's skyline.

And it helped to inspire award-winning playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker to dream up a powerful, relevant, drama.

It's a rare treat to be able to watch something in the theatre about which you know virtually nothing and it's best if you arrive at this cold.

The basic story focuses on five members of an all-female reading group who sneak into a half built super-hotel on the hill's summit, to spark each other's imagination into life and create fiction.

As they discuss and debate, it becomes clear that group leader Dolly (Denise Black in a storming performance) has more on her mind than literature.

Winter Hill is very much an ensemble piece and it is amazing that the Octagon has managed to gather so much acting talent under one roof.

You just can't tear your eyes away from Black, Louise Jameson, Cathy Tyson, Janet Henfrey and Souad Faress as the women  launch into full flow.

Winter Hill is a rare treat; a new play performed by actresses at the top of their game, with topical themes and messages and set in a real world Bolton location, directed with dynamism and clarity by Octagon artistic director Elizabeth Newman.

What helps to make this unfolding tale so effective for local audiences is that, thanks to the atmospheric sound design you feel you're just a few yards away from that huge white TV mast, the unmistakable landmark that immediately identifies Winter Hill.

And for anyone who has ever trekked to the top, the memories will certainly enhance your enjoyment of the production.

That's not to say, however, that those who haven't will be at a disadvantage.

The themes of the underdog fighting corporate greed and unthinking development, and whether peaceful or violent protest is the best means to an end, are universal.

Wertenbaker has woven these themes, incorporating a uniquely female perspective, in a thought-provoking and intelligent piece of writing.

And before the blokes reading this shout 'Uh,oh, not more man bashing', you needn't fear. Okay, so there's the odd sideswipe at us chaps, but Winter Hill isn't about having a go at men.

It explores whether protest in the forms of petitions and demonstrations ever really achieves anything positive. And are more extreme forms of action worth the often heavy cost?

It all sounds very intense and it is true these are weighty and topical themes, especially in Bolton where, as we report in this very newspaper, there is often vocal protest against development that might affect a community.

But there is a rich seam of humour running through the whole play, largely mined by the ever excellent Henfrey as wine-loving pensioner Felicity.

At one point, Jameson's character Beth remarks (to chuckles from the audience) 'Nobody wants to come to this town'.

It turns out that this powerful production is a fantastic reason to visit.

Catch it before it's too late.

Runs until Saturday June 3.