AN acclaimed stage and screen actress is urging people to speak up for the NHS as a witty and compassionate play exploring the UK’s best-loved and most fiercely debated institution comes to Bolton.

Stephanie Cole, who appeared in Tenko, Open All Hours and Coronation Street, is appearing as witty, feisty and independent elderly woman Iris in This May Hurt A Bit, at the Octagon Theatre, from Tuesday to Saturday, April 5.

The Octagon’s fourth co-production with theatre company Out of Joint, the new play explores one family’s journey through the digestive system of the NHS and asks, what is the prognosis for this much-loved institution?

The play has already been attracting rave reviews after two weeks in Bury St Edmunds, a run in Kent and even a showing at the House of Commons.

Stephanie said: “It’s a very entertaining play. It also has a great deal of information that slips in without you realising it.

“It’s an absolutely fantastic piece to do. Simply because nobody else has written a play about what’s happening to our NHS.

“We’ve lost our railway, we’ve lost our Post Office, we’ve lost our telephone service.

“It really has evoked an enormous amount of interest.”

Acclaimed playwright Stella Feehily started writing it after her husband, the play’s director Max Stafford-Clark, had a major stroke and spent six months in hospital.

The result is a play about the personal impact of the government's top-down reorganisation of the NHS.

Speaking of her own experiences of the NHS, 72-year-old Stephanie said: “I’ve had both good and bad. I think very often the bad is to do with the fact the hospitals are now run by managers and accountants who have never worked on the floor.

“We must have more nurses and we must pay them properly.”

The actress was seven-years-old when the NHS came into being and, although she did not properly understand what it meant, she remembers her mother’s reaction.

She said: “My mother and I were a one parent family at that time.

“I do remember her absolute relief and joy at knowing that if anything happened to one of us, we could get treatment without having to worry about having to afford it.

“People have forgotten that that’s what it’s all about.

“We do hear the bad stories, our newspapers tend to concentrate on the bad stories.

“What we forget is that, every 36 hours — so every day and a half — the NHS in this country treats one million people. That’s quite a thing.”

She fears privatisation would lead to ill health and fatalities for those not eligible for or who cannot afford private healthcare and is urging people to make their voices heard by seeking out local lobbying groups and contacting politicians.

She said: “People will die.

“People will not be able to afford to go.

“Women having children, everything will be affected.

“I feel very strongly that we need to do everything we can to bring this to the public’s attention.

“You can be whatever colour politically you like but what we need to do is save the NHS.”

Aside from politics and healthcare, Stephanie promises an entertaining night of theatre for anyone who comes to watch This May Hurt A Bit, which also stars Jane Wymark, from Midsomer Murders, Brian Protheroe, Frances Ashman, Natalie Klamar, William Hope and Hywel Morgan.

She said: “That’s what is so clever about this play.

“It makes you think but it’s also very funny.

“It’s also very moving as the central story is of a family using the NHS.

“It’s very quick, it’s only two hours in all, including an interval.

“We have a really strong company of actors.”

Away from the stage and, in December 2013, Stephanie reprised her role of Mrs Delphine Featherstone in Still Open All Hours after appearing in the original series, Open All Hours, from 1982 to 1985.

She said: “There is talk of the possibility of another series of that.

“It was fantastic, it was great, working with Lynda Baron and David Jason again.

“David and I have worked together several times over the years.

“Absolutely terrific, Johnny Vegas appeared too which was great.

“We were filming in exactly the same street.”

And Corrie fans will recognise her as Roy Cropper’s outspoken and confrontational mother, Sylvia Goodwin, from her time on the soap between 2011 and 2013.

She said: “I loved it. I had a great time, I was very lucky.

“There are fantastic actors on Corrie.

“When you are actually on it, you realise how high the production values are.

“It really is like a well-oiled machine which goes very fast.”

This May Hurt A Bit is at the Octagon from Tuesday, March 25, to Saturday, April 5. Tickets cost between £9 to £24, phone 01204 520661 or visit