Demolition Man, Octagon Theatre, Bolton
Tuesday 19 April 2011
Fred Dibnah is a towering institution in his native Bolton. A statue of the steam-engine loving steeplejack stands proudly not far from the majestic town hall where he was first discovered at work by a television producer in the 1970s. Going beyond the myth of the down-to-earth Lancashire sage with the greasy flat cap could have been difficult in his own backyard but Aelish Michael's play is ultimately successful in getting to the real person. Colin Connor fully assumes the character of Dibnah, perfectly imitating the accent and mannerisms of one of television's original reality stars. He is by turns passionate and funny, selfish and childlike, needy and driven. Ironically, as he points out early on, Dibnah was most famous in the 1980s and 1990s for demolishing the industrial heritage that he so cherished. He would rather have been a creator but alas – apart from the steam engine he built in his dying days and the aborted mineshaft he sunk into his back garden – it was for the spectacular chimney drops for which he was best known and to which hundreds of spectators would turn up as if attending a hanging.
Yet rather than deal with his ascent to fame, The Demolition Man begins with the steeplejack at a low ebb, lonely and ambivalent towards the fame that television has bought him and bereft of any kind of fortune. Twice divorced and with five children he does not see, Fred is nearly 60 but is reinvigorated with the romance he has with the young and attractive Sheila, played with considerable allure by former EastEnders star Michelle Collins. Love blossoms over trips to the non-ferrous scrap yard and snatched kisses rapidly and a little improbably become an instant marriage, if not made in heaven then certainly a convenient one fashioned amid the fettled flanges of his tool shed. Still, the first half of the play is funny and charming without lapsing into sentimentality.
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