Whilst Bolton’s Octagon Theatre undergoes a multi-million-pound redevelopment it is continuing to provide first-class entertainment in a variety of Town Centre venues. The Octagon is currently enjoying a short run at the iconic Bolton Albert Halls with a revival of Jim Cartwright’s, The Rise and Fall of Little Voice; the original production at the National Theatre in 1992 making an overnight star of Lancashire born actress Jane Horrocks. Two actresses in the Octagon’s production Katie Elin-Salt and Sally George are reprising roles that they have previously performed in the play.
Elin-Salt who originally played LV at the Octagon Theatre in 2012 is returning to the role having since appeared at Shakespeare’s Globe in Twelfth Night and performed with Paines Plough Theatre Company. George, who is playing Mari was recently seen in the National Theatre’s highly acclaimed People Place and Things and last year memorably played opposite her daughter, Rafaella Hutchinson, in a production of Little Voice at London’s Park Theatre.
In this interview, Elin-Salt and George share their thoughts about reprising roles that they have played before and working with Jim Cartwright.
Hi Katie and Sally, You have both played these roles before what is it like playing them again in this production?
Katie: I had such a fantastic experience the last time I played LV in 2012, I’ve always been slightly wary of playing LV again as the last production was such a happy time for me but as soon as I met Ben (the director) I knew there was much more to explore and I’m pleased to say this production has surpassed all expectations for me and been just as enjoyable and rewarding as the last time.
Sally: So my last theatre job was playing Mari at the Park Theatre in London, I did some filming in between but that ended around mid-Sep and then I was up to Bolton to play Mari again in this production. It’s a huge part – I think Alison Steadman [from the original 1993 West End cast] said it was one of the hardest roles she had ever learnt. Jim Cartwright’s language is very colloquial and yet very poetic. Coming back to the role the lines were there in my mind already, just buried deep and I had to find them again.
Sally – Recently you played opposite your daughter in a production of this play at the Park Theatre in London. What was the experience like and has it influenced in any way how you are playing the role now?
It was an absolute gift to play opposite my real daughter, Rafaella. There aren’t many actresses who have a daughter of the right age who can play LV. You have to be massively talented, like Katie, to act and to sing in the role of LV. Katie and Rafaella are very different in the way they play the part and I obviously missed my daughter in the first few days of rehearsals but Katie couldn’t have made it any easier for me and we have become very good friends backstage.
Katie – Having originally played LV at the Octagon Theatre what has been the greatest challenge for you adjusting your performance for the Albert Halls?
Obviously, we are playing to a much bigger space than being in the Octagon and last time the production was in the round so I’ve had to adapt vocally. The Albert Halls is more of a traditional music hall venue and it has more of a working club feel to it which is perfect for the play.
Jim Cartwright has been very busy on social media promoting the production have you had any contact with him and has he visited rehearsals?
Sally: I worked with Jim via email and over the phone and made friends with him whilst I was working on the role for the Park Theatre production. Jim came down to see the London production and was really supportive and complimentary. I think he is a genius and I don’t say that word easily. Jim manages to write in a contemporary language in a heightened way. Reprising the role in a production in the North is just wonderful because they know Mari. You could bump into her in the supermarket here.
Little Voice has become a theatre classic, do you think the way that audiences receive the play has changed since it was first performed in 1992?
Sally: I think not in terms of audiences from an older generation, the play is quite of its time and things have changed now. People might think it’s too focused on searching for a man to solve all of their problems but Jim was ahead of his time writing two female leads in a play. An older woman who carries the play in terms of weight and part is so rare.
Do you think it would be possible to update Little Voice and if so, which singers do you think LV would want to impersonate?
Katie: I think The Rise and Fall of Little Voice is a play that is just as relevant now as it was back then. The themes of mother-daughter relationships, finding your own voice and place in the world, and ultimately love are still important – however there have been big changes in the last changes in the 20 years that would affect LV – mobile phones, social media, and reality TV shows such as The Voice and X-Factor – which no doubt LV would be pushed on to. If LV was impersonating modern day singers, the obvious choice for me would be Amy Winehouse as she seems our most recent example of a troubled but fiercely talented Diva.
Sally: I think it would take a lot of work to rewrite the story, you’d have to do something quite radical and it would have to be Jim. The phone line being installed is quite integral to the play, it is set in the early nineties where phones in homes were just starting to become common and people were just able to instantly connect to each other for the first time. Now it would be things like X-Factor and Instagram. I’d like to see LV as a black actress in a gospel choir.
You both have extensive Theatre and TV credits, what are your career highlights so far?
Sally: Playing Mari has definitely got to be up there in my top three. I feel so lucky and privileged for all the work I have been given and I am delighted to take on the role again once more up North. Last year I played Queen Elizabeth I at Hampton Court Palace in An Elizabethan Christmas – from Queen of England to Queen of the North Mari – I’ve got to play some brilliant parts. I loved all of the Jane Austen that I did for TV and also more recently I played Caitlin Thomas (the wife of poet Dylan Thomas) in a film called Love Somehow which was just an incredible character to play.
Katie: Well, Little Voice is a huge one for me. Last year I was involved in the Paines Plough Rep season performing new plays up and down the country and, since the last time I did Little Voice, I’ve also been lucky enough to perform at the National Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe which were highlights for me.
And finally, would you like to perform in the refurbished Octagon Theatre and if you could choose which part you could play what would it be?
Sally: I’m really excited for the town that they’re going to have this magnificent new theatre. Of course, I had heard of the Octagon before I came here and I always wanted to work in Bolton. I’d love to come back and work in the new theatre perhaps in a new play or more Cartwright. There are some Shakespeare roles that are definitely on my list – Lady Macbeth, Titania, Beatrice. I love contemporary drama too and as is the same for any actor I am always just happy for the work!
Katie: I would love to do another musical, and I think the Octagon is a great place to explore this. My dream roles here would be Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors or Adelaide in Guys and Dolls.
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice continues at the Albert Halls, Bolton until Saturday 2 February
Richard Hall | Image: The Other Richard