A PLAY about Fred Dibnah is at the heart of the new season at the Octagon.

Artistic director David Thacker says the theme of the season is “love, sex, desire and passion”, and the world premier of The Demolition Man in April next year fits right into that bill.

Written by Aelish Michael in collaboration with Fred’s third wife Sheila and some of his closest friends, the play chronicles the last few years of Fred’s life, his determination to get his beloved steam engine on the road and the ups and downs of his relationship with Sheila.

David says the play came about after the writer raised enough money to put on a rehearsed reading of the script, which she had been developing with him.

“We had a very frank and open discussion with the audience as to whether the play honoured Fred.” he said. “It became very clear that there was a strong sense that we should do this play, so the next morning I rang Aelish up and commissioned it.”

The season starts on September 16 with the American classic A Streetcar Named Desire, followed by Love On The Dole, based on the classic 1930s Northern novel by Walter Greenwood.

Following on from the record-breaking success of Oliver Twist, this year’s Christmas show will be another Charles Dickens favourite David Copperfield, running from November 19 to January 15.

David said: “Charles Dickens writes with such emotional power. Over the festive period we wanted grandmums to be able to come with their children and grandchildren and the people next door — we wanted it to be something for everyone.”

In February, David will direct a new production of Romeo and Juliet.

“The production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was such a success, particularly with the younger people in the audience,” he said. “The young lovers were so brilliant and they identified with that, so I thought we’ve really got to do Romeo and Juliet.

“It’s another play where young people are central, but they are suffering and dying because of the appalling world the adults have created, and that’s what’s happening now. Through love young people can heal the world.”

David has won two Olivier Awards for his work directing Pericles at the Royal Shakespeare Company, so his credentials are impeccable.

“People warned me off doing Shakespeare, they said it wouldn’t work in Bolton,” he said. “I didn’t believe them. You have to do the productions well, and that’s difficult, but I think because we did it so boldly people responded.”

David is also well-known for his work with Arthur Miller, and his tear-jerking production of All My Sons opened his first season at the Octagon in style. There is more Miller this season, in the form of the lesser-known play The Price, which opens next March.

“The Price was the first production where I had a really detailed relationship with Arthur Miller,” said David. “It was extraordinarily important to my development as a human being and as a director to share that time with him.

“Even though The Price is not one of his most famous plays, it is right up there with his greatest works.”

The Price will be followed by the world premiere of Secret Thoughts by David Lodge based on his novel Thinks..., with Steven Sondheim’s massively popular musical Sweeney Todd rounding off the season in June.

“I think the thing that characterises the whole season for me is an emphasis on quality, accessibility and impact,” said David.

“There is no point skirting around the edges — there’s no point doing things people might quite like. You have to go for the bullseye.

“I want the Octagon to be able to stand up against any theatre in the country.”