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Peter Kay plays secret homecoming shows to raise funds for Bolton Octagon theatre

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By Ian Youngs

Entertainment & arts reporter

Comedian Peter Kay has performed three secret and intimate fundraising shows in Bolton – his first time on stage in his home town for 20 years.

Kay broke off from his current mammoth arena tour to appear at Bolton’s 390-capacity Octagon theatre on Sunday, raising £80,000 for the venue.

He was given a rapturous reception and reminisced about working at the theatre in the 1990s – before he was “let go”.

His return has given the venue “a big boost”, its chief executive said.

Fans queued outside the Octagon theatre before Kay’s three shows on Sunday

Kay describes himself as “one of Bolton’s funniest comedians”.

He is, if course, one of Britain’s biggest comedy stars and saw huge demand for his current 121-date, three-year tour, which began in 2022 after 12 years away from the live circuit.

On Sunday, he performed three two-hour sets, with tickets selling out “within minutes” after being made available to the theatre’s members, patrons and mailing list subscribers, the venue said.

“It’s nice playing here because I’ve been playing arenas,” Kay told the first crowd at the Octagon. “I prefer this because it’s nice and intimate.”

This was a much closer encounter with his fans. Kay was in the centre of a small circular stage, surrounded by the audience.

“I used to work here in 1994 and I got let go,” he told them, talking about his stint in the venue’s box office.

His sackable offences, he recalled, included telling a Coronation Street actor he couldn’t come in wearing white jeans; and impersonating a council employee to tell a ticket holder who had been rude to a colleague that their water was going to be cut off.

He also fell asleep watching a play while in uniform, he said. “So that wasn’t a good advert, for a member of staff to be spark out during a show.”

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Kay pictured on a Bolton street towards the start of his career

Kay reminisced about other jobs at a local branch of cut-price supermarket Netto (“Got let go”) and a video shop called Rentertainment (“Got let go”).

“This is the best job,” he said. “I haven’t been let go from this job yet.

“Thank you very much for coming and supporting a very worthy cause.”

As well as talking about local shops, he did material from his arena tour, and appeared in a Santa outfit for a Christmas-themed second half in which he read a monologue about advent calendars, school nativity plays and festive parties.

“It was absolutely amazing,” said Louise Green, from Bolton, on her way out. “It was good to see him back again and it felt special because it was in his home town. It was really funny. A good treat before Christmas.”

“It’s fantastic that he’s giving something back to the town because he’s one of the local boys and he’s done good,” said another audience member, Peter Rushton.

‘He’s looking at you’

Reg Ross said: “It was a nice surprise and it was good to see him in a close-knit theatre. It’s a completely different experience from what you’re going to get in the arenas. He said the same himself.

“And it’s his home town, so it just feels like you’re sat with your mates and he’s looking at you – it feels a lot more intimate.”

Tracie Ross added: “The Octagon theatre’s one of a kind and he’s one of a kind, and getting money back into the arts and getting people back into live theatre is amazing.”

Image caption,

Kay was a member of the Octagon’s youth theatre and went on to work in the box office for about four months

The comedian was a member of the youth theatre and he worked in the box office. Octagon chief executive Roddy Gauld said his “generosity” would help keep work like that going and keep ticket prices down.

“Running a theatre like this is tough right now,” he said.

“Costs have risen, as they have for every business and every household. And as people have less money to spend, that trip to the theatre might be something that they decide to cut down on at the moment. So having a big draw like Peter Kay makes a massive difference.”

Kay is not the only star to emerge from the Octagon – actress Maxine Peake made her professional debut there, while director Danny Boyle recently talked about being inspired to start his career when he worked there as an usher.

SOURCE: BBC NEWS