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Elizabeth Newman On ... Can't Pay? Won't Pay!

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Elizabeth Newman is Associate Director at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton. She has had huge success with her Festive production Peter Pan and her Little Voice was also a box office winner and audience favourite. She directs Can't Pay? Won't Pay! next - a political farce which opens at the end of this month. We caught up with Elizabeth to find out more.

How has the last year been for you?
The last year has been a really positive year for us all at the Octagon. We’ve seen more people coming to the Theatre than ever before. I am a full time member of the artistic team at the Theatre so I’m privileged enough to have a varied role which is very fulfilling.

Any highlights?
I feel very fortunate to have directed some wonderful dramas. The response to Little Voice blew me away. We’ve never experienced such an intense reaction from the audience. And then to have such a positive reaction from children and schools for our production of Peter Pan was great. And it looks like Robin Hood will have lovely audiences as we’ve never had so many people pre-booking for a festive show before.

Any others?
I’m very proud of the new writing initiatives that we’ve been able to introduce and the partnerships we’ve been able to build over the last year especially. I set up the new writing department four years ago when I arrived in Bolton. Since then the department has expanded and definitely contributes to the new writing landscape in Bolton and across the North. We’ve managed to work with even more writers than last year and offer even more opportunities.

A particular new writing highlight is the collaborative project we’ve been working on with The Alligators Club. Earlier in the year we invited 35 writers to stay overnight at the Theatre. It was an inspiring event. We had writers writing throughout the night all over the Theatre. We had discussion groups, writing sessions and brainstorming events. Six writers were selected from this group of 35 and they are now writing a great new play together. This will be called The Love Inn. We’ll produce this new drama in a found space in Bolton.

As well as running the new writing department I also programme our ancillary season of work. We’ve had some real highlights over the past year, most recently The Best of Bolton in our Studio. This is an annual event which celebrates local writing talent - prose, poetry and drama. We managed to support over 40 writers in sell out performance of The Best of Bolton this year. It was a brilliant event.
Can you tell us a bit about Can't Pay? Won't Pay!
Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! is an incredible Dario Fo political farce. We meet two couples. The women are caught in the midst of an impromptu rebellion at the local supermarket. Antonia and Margherita are swept along in a protest against the escalating cost of living. The supermarket shelves are ransacked as the protestors go wild in the aisles liberating whatever they can lay their hands on and conceal about their persons. But the long arm of the law is in hot pursuit, and if the two women and their hapless husbands Giovanni and Luigi aren’t careful it won’t just be the goods that are nicked… We’re producing the English version by Lino Pertile, adapted by Bill Colvill and Robert Walker. Translated from the original Sotto Paga? Non Si Paga!

Is it still relevant?
It’s entirely a play for now; frighteningly nearly 40 years on we’re experiencing the same economic plight as the characters in this contemporary classic. Every day in rehearsals we discover even more joy in this very important play. This is a story that we need to tell now.

What attracted you to it?
I’ve wanted to direct the play for a long time. It’s funny, dynamic and moving all in one breath. This is a play that will not only entertain but make the audience feel something.

Who's in it?
The Company are incredible. Colin Connor, Kate Coogan, Danny Cunningham, Eamonn Riley and Lynda Rooke. I have worked with some of the Company before. They are such an open and dedicated group of actors. They’re totally committed to the politics of the play and really want to offer our audience a wonderful experience at the Theatre. We want the audience to be empowered when they leave the auditorium. By the end of the play I want them to feel as if they can go back to their real lives and fight for change.  

Regional theatre is struggling with funding cuts, why should people support the Octagon?
The arts help us to understand who we are.  They define a people and a place and quite simply, enjoying them makes life better. It shouldn’t be a choice between schools and health and culture, all of these things are important.  At the Octagon we work hard to make sure everyone in our community can enjoy them and the danger of funding cuts is that theatre becomes something that can only be afforded by a relative few. And that’s the exact opposite of what this play is about.

There are plans to improve the Octagon, aren't there?
The grant we recently received from Arts Council England recognises not only the need to improve the theatre, but also how important the Octagon is to Bolton and the North West. We will now be able to bring our auditorium and stage systems up to date, reduce our energy consumption and create a more comfortable and spacious front of house environment. This will be a real step forward for the theatre and a welcome development towards the growth of the town centre economy, keeping Bolton as busy and vibrant as possible.

What's coming up next (at the Octagon) that you are looking forward to?

We’re ending the season on two very strong dramas, which we’re very passionate about as an organisation. Next up is Piaf and it promises to be a high impact drama. We have an incredible company of actors bringing to life Edith’s powerful story which is jam packed with humour and beautiful music. I can’t wait to get started.

Elizabeth Newman was speaking to Glenn Meads

Can't Pay? Won't Pay! is at the Bolton Octagon from 25 April - 18 May.


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