And Did Those Feet

Bolton Octagon at the University of Bolton Stadium

Until November 1

ANY self-respecting Bolton Wanderers supporter knows how this ends.

It’s 1923 and the first FA Cup final is to be played at the newly-built Wembley Stadium. More than 200,000 fans cram in, pushed back from the pitch by a famous policeman riding a white horse. It is one of English football’s fabled tales.

Yet this is not simply a play about the beautiful game.

Sure, Wanderers history is woven tight through the plot, set against faltering cotton mills in a town still coming to terms with the aftermath of the Great War.

Writers Martin Thomason and Les Smith name-drop heroes like Dick Pym, Ted Vizard, Joe Smith and the majestic David Jack, whose exploits on the pitch made Bolton Wanderers the most famous club in the land during the 1920s.

But what makes this heart-warming tale relatable to even those who cannot fathom the offside rule is the relationships between characters to whom Wanderers’ route to the final becomes a symbol of hope.

A mother (Barbara Drennan) finds escape on the Burnden terraces as she and her husband (Colin Connor) grieve over the loss of their son (Nathan Ives-Moiba) in battle.

A soon-to-be-wed couple, Martha and Ted (Helen O’Hara and Ciaran Griffiths), question whether their big day is meant to happen as the town is gripped by cup fever and rising unemployment.

Ted’s brother Jim (played by John Askew) dreams of revolution but after losing his job faces a desperate struggle to correct his life and see the Wanderers run out at Wembley.

Knitting it all together is the superb Martin Barrass, playing the role of Bob Stott for the third time since the play opened in 2007. A newsagent and dyed-in-the-wool Wanderer, he is determined to make the journey to Wembley by foot, providing some perfect comedy touches to a script which bubbles with emotion.

Faced with ‘playing away’ from the Octagon, it is a credit to the director, David Thacker, and the set designers that the production has lost none of its intimacy, despite being set at the University of Bolton Stadium’s Lion of Vienna Suite.

Film reels are cleverly used as a backdrop to link the numerous set pieces and add a modern twist to the nostalgia.

And Did Those Feet has plenty enough local references to satisfy Boltonians and Wanderers fans but, never fear, the central themes are enough to make it accessible to all. Even Yorkies.

It is also a timely reminder of how lucky we are to have two wonderful institutions directly on our doorstep: The town’s theatre and its football club.

Marc Iles