Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

The Demolition Man

Aelish Michael
Octagon, Bolton
08 April 2011 to 07 May 2011

With his flat cap, and even flatter Bolton accent, Fred Dibnah became an unlikely TV celebrity with a host of programmes celebrating his prowess as an engineering enthusiast, a steeplejack, or someone who demolished factory chimneys in the region’s post-industrial aftermath.

Where other men might fix, he still “fettled – yer know?” and he greeted all classes of society as “cock – yer know?” with his dogged determination to celebrate engineering heritage “yer know?”

Aelish Michael’s play, given its world premiere on appropriate home territory, captures much of the quirky essence of Fred, while Colin Connor admirably forges both the physical and vocal signatures of the man.

But in an over-long and over-wrought production it becomes increasingly difficult to determine any dramatic impetus to the story, which concentrates on the character’s third marriage and his untimely death.

His relationship with fellow Bolton lass Sheila Grundy (a one-time Blackpool magician’s assistant) does have something of a Bamforth’s postcard appeal to it – she the worldly, and younger, towering blonde to his diminutive and diehard workman.

The play imagines that virtually all of their exchanges were of the seaside humour variety, and Michelle Collins does her best with the material.

In rummaging around in Fred’s authentic-looking workshop however, nothing here ever looks quite fettled, whether it is his attitude towards his team of fellow engineering enthusiasts, or persistent TV film crews.

Spectral appearances by his own hero, Victorian engineering genius Isambard Kingdom Brunel, suggest desperation rather than any dramatic significance.

What we are left with is a near three-hour tribute act – kept afloat on a wave of audience affection – devoted to a man who appeared anxious to leave some tangible Brunel-like legacy, but whose legend is perhaps best served by the TV programmes that properly celebrated a character whose workman’s boots were planted firmly in another age.

Reviewer: David Upton

Comments

Comment by Alan Hulme

The focus is on Dibner's later years, which aren't actually all that riveting.

I like Michelle Collins (again, after her Nurse in R&J) though I've been castigated by other panel members for saying that.

Overall, the play is poorly constructed, the appearances by Brunel irrelevent and the whole thing would benefit from an hour or so of cuts.

Boltonians hoping for a tribute to a town hero will be greatly disappointed.