Venue: The Octagon
Where: Bolton

This Bolton Octagon production of Bill Naughton’s Lighthearted Intercourse is billed as a ‘world premiere’ although an earlier version was seen at Liverpool Playhouse in 1971 starring William Roache (Corrie’s Ken Barlow).

What makes this a ‘first’ is that it is a drawing together of material from some ten drafts and archive notes into a ‘definitive’ version which has the blessing of Erna, Naughton’s widow. This production also completes the ‘Naughton Canon’ as the Octagon has produced all of his plays – a fitting tribute to a playwright who can be funny, moving, hilarious, thought-provoking and most of all a superb chronicler of humankind.

In so many ways Lighthearted Intercourse has the ‘Naughton touch’. It is tender and funny; moving and wise which all add up to a play of great warmth and appeal. You just love the characters and are drawn into their world. But the numerous re-writes show and the play does not always fit together as a whole. It starts well but despite some amusing moments involving ‘Little Joe’ the piece meanders during the first act and it is a brave playwright who asks the audience ‘I hope you are finding this interesting?’

The start of the second act sees the play move up a gear as we watch Joe and Madge struggle with newly married life, a baby, lack of work and near starvation. The mood switches from tenderness to anger and back again with a naturalness that involves the rapt audience and Joe’s return home from the pit makes for a riveting scene.

Nicholas Shaw as Joe has an easy and likeable way with him. Fiona Hampton's Madge switches effortlessly between worry and feistiness and David Fleeshman brings authority to his role of the important Visitor dispensing wisdom and commonsense. David Thacker directs as meticulously as ever and Maxine Peake and Peter Kay lend their undoubted talents to two larger than life characters – they are not seen but very much heard!

There is a very good play here struggling to come through. This version has some lovely moments but needs the blue pencil particularly in the first half. But when it’s good it’s very good.

- Richard Woodward