A look back at our Artistic Directors

A look back at our Artistic Directors

As we celebrate New Year, Artistic Director Elizabeth Newman looks back to celebrate the past.

The first Artistic Director of the Octagon that I met was David Thacker. We were in his old office at the Young Vic where David had been Artistic Director for 10 years. As our 30 minute meeting overran by an hour, I realised then that this was the start of a very important relationship.

We shared many laughs together in our first meeting. It was also in this meeting that David asked me what I consider to be one of the most vital questions that a director must explore: how do your rehearsals promote high quality acting?

Eight and a half years later, it’s a question that we keep coming back to together, the golden thread in our friendship. 

The first time I met Mark Babych, he gave me the most beaming smile when Io met him. This, along with giving great hugs, are qualities that are shared by all the former Octagon Artistic Directors I was going to discover in the years to come.

It became clear as I got to know Mark that we shared a mutual love and appreciation of Bolton audiences. I knew from the off that the brilliance of the audiences here are what this Theatre so special. 

I met Andy Hay through his wife, Lynda Rooke. I was approached by a bright, stunning and confident woman. Lynda.

It was during this meeting that we agreed to do a play together. She then introduced me to her husband and I was once again greeted by that familiar smile and all-embracing hug.

Andy told me of the special time he spent working at the Octagon and the joy of commissioning and directing the world premiere of Jim Cartwright’s Two. Andy spoke passionately about the theatre and the special place that it will always hold in his heart. Since then Andy has always been on the end of a phone or someone I occasionally get to share a pizza and wine with, which is always reinvigorating and nourishing!

Lawrence Till was someone that I had heard of for a long time without ever having met him.

When I was Associate Director at the Octagon, my friend and long-term collaborator, Mark Powell, Artistic Director of Prime Theatre, and Ben Occhipinti introduced me to ‘our friend Lawrence.’

It then dawned on me that this was the Lawrence Till who I was now finally meeting. Suddenly a lot of things all fell into place. I am so relieved that I met Lawrence when I did – he is a true visionary. 

When I applied for my current job, Lawrence gave me wise words, great belief, and a huge hug.

Lawrence’s thoughtfulness and love for the Octagon has never faltered even if he’s been jetting off producing television or running other theatres

When I became Artistic Director of the Octagon, I was lucky enough to know four of the people who had held the role before me. Even so, it felt like a part of the puzzle was missing. An important part, one that would mean I could begin imagining the 50th Anniversary Season so it would honour all those that have gone before and their great work. I realised that I needed to find John Adams…

Meeting John was the most extraordinary of all my encounters with Artistic Directors, not least because it took place in Birmingham Train Station. John was directing a play there at the time. He hugged me as if I was an old friend. (There’s that hug again!)

For an hour, I was re-interviewed for the role of Artistic Director. John grilled me about what my vision for the Octagon is and, once I had explained it in great detail, John declared: ‘I have decided that you’ve got the job – now I’ll tell you about me.’

It was then that John brought out the most beautiful photograph album that I have ever seen. Inside this were production photographs and programmes of all the plays that John had directed during his time here, which he explained with such care and detail.

I was determined that these five Artistic Directors would be part of our 50th Anniversary Season.

I am thrilled that David directed 'The Threepenny Opera' and will be directing 'Hamlet', while Andy and John judged our National Prize duologue entries (in celebration of 'Two'). Mark is supporting our emerging artist programme and Lawrence has adapted the short stories of Bill Naughton to create 'The Big Corner', which will be our last production in the theatre before our building undergoes a redevelopment and we and our work move offsite.

Over the course of these first meetings and the many conversations that have followed them, I have come to realise something else which is shared by the Octagon’s former Artistic Directors as well as their wonderful smiles. It is something which I have in common with them too. We all feel immensely honoured to have served as Artistic Director.

The Octagon’s journey began, and remains, with the people of Bolton. The Octagon is at its best when it’s theatre made in Bolton for Bolton. I am so excited to celebrate our 50 years with you while we also look ahead to where the journey takes us next.

Elizabeth Newman