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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA


previews, reviews, interviews, and recommendations

with Steve Cooke


The Book of Will – ‘A Hilarious Love Letter To The Theatre’ - at the Octagon Bolton.

REVIEW By Steve Cooke

After the show Bill Ward [Henry Condell] enthused about Lotte Wakeham’s ‘top notch direction’ and the ‘warmth’ the company of actors had developed.

That goes a long way to explaining why The Book of Will at the Octagon is such a delight.

American playwright Lauren Gunderson’s play connects with Shakespeare’s universal humanity, reflecting the emotional rollercoaster of life - love, betrayal, triumph, and loss with lots of tears and laughter.

In the 400th anniversary year of the first publication of Shakespeare’s scripts in the First Folio of 1623 The Book of Will transports us back to the time when a group of grieving actors embarked on a project to preserve the words of their departed friend - battling against the odds - “Half the country can’t read; the other half can’t pay.”

The wonderfully talented cast of 10 play 30 different characters, among the many highlights being Andrew Whitehead’s hilarious take on a very drunk Ben Johnson, Zach Lee’s creepy, blind printer/publisher William Jaggard, Jessica Ellis’s loveably salty Alice Heminges and of course the central characters Russell Richardson’s deep-thinking, emotional, John Heminges and the superbly ebullient Bill Ward’s Henry Condell.

The creative team, headed by the Octagon’s Artistic Director Lottie Wakeham, expertly stage The Book of Will in in the round, drawing every member of the audience into the action – transporting us back in time to the world of ‘players’ in 1623.

If you are up for experiencing live theatre at its very best, then don’t miss this ‘Hilarious Love Letter To Theatre’ at The Octagon, Bolton until Saturday 3 June.


Toad Lane Concerts 17 May 2023 Dimitra Ananiadou violin Richard Whalley piano

REVIEW by Dr Joe Dawson

Impromptu international concert

Fortuitously, this concert coincided with celebrating 70 years of twinning with Bielefeld. So, some of our German friends were in town for our Mayor-making. What better place to spend a Wednesday lunchtime in Rochdale than a concert at St Mary in the Baum?

Adding to the international feel, was the Greek violinist Dimitra Ananiadou. A graduate of the Universities of Greece, York, and Manchester. Along with her violin playing she has master’s degrees in Musicology and Historical Performance and is a teaching assistant and doctoral researcher at the University of Manchester.

Dimitra opened with the challenging unaccompanied Chaconne in D minor by JS Bach. Like recent classical guitar and harp performances, such an accomplished player uses their full expressive range in the superb acoustic of St Mary in the Baum without amplification.

She was then joined by the industrious pianist and composer, Richard Whalley, Senior Lecturer in Composition at the University of Manchester, a York graduate, and Harvard PhD.

Their performance of the dramatic Beethoven Violin Sonata Op. 30 No. 2 was compelling and stunning as it moved through changing moods from serenity to storms in the skilful and energetic hands of these fine interpreters.

Similarly, the highly charged ‘Praeludium and Allegro in the style of Pugnani’, a Romantic pastiche of Italian Baroque by Austrian violinist-composer Fritz Kreisler, was a delight.

What a glorious way to spend a lunchtime … and improve international relations.

The Queen’s Award-winning Toad Lane Concerts are every Wednesday at 12.30pm at St Mary in the Baum, Toad Lane, Rochdale, OL16 1DZ. Entrance fee is £6. No refreshments available. Contact 01706 648872 for further information.

No pay? No way! Royal exchange

REVIEW By Steve Griffiths

If you want a farce which is loud, anarchic and tries to appeal to the current trend for over-the-top responses to the ever-increasing price rises then this is the play for you. The audience loved this retelling of the original Dario Fo play from the 70s.

The update is written by Marieke Hardy, originally for the Sydney theatre, where there was an ecstatic reception. The director of the Exchange, Bryony Shanahan, takes on the responsibility of staging it for Manchester audience. She reckons that it is a joyous play where the audience will laugh out loud. From the response of a large part of the audience she has her wish. The laughter which regularly met the appearance of the authority figure, Anwar Russell, as policeman /undertaker/etc showed the value of of a stage set which incorporates a children’s slide for actors to use as their entrance.

Marieke tells of her experience in writing it ‘Like I’m a huge book lover- Like why why- So I like to think- So I did really want to reframe it’ which gives some idea of how well the play is written. If you like simple ideas expressed simply and loudly then you will love this.

Marieke comes from a family in which there was a culture of hard left thought. This clearly comes through the play. As she says ‘the working class fights and the working class fights and there’s a reason why those struggles are so familiar to people fighting the ongoing war against capitalism’. Which can be fun to follow on the streets but can be a little hard to sit through.

The actors follow up the views of the director that many comedic plays with women characters display them as weak. That we live in a world where misogyny rules. As a result the main character, Kathleen Pearce as Margherita, feels that it is necessary to show that she is a strong presence by shouting her lines. Given that the Exchange is round, and some actors find it difficult to share their lines with the audience this may be no bad thing.

Normally it is possible to find something good to say about the set. Even that, apart from the slide, is difficult to find interesting.

But at the end of the day the audience reaction is the key. And in the main they loved it. So go and make your own mind up.

On until 10 June.



Thursday 01 June

Twirlywoos Live On Stage

Join Great BigHoo, Toodloo, Chickedy, Chick and their friends as they discover the wonderful world around us! Expect mischief, music, and plenty of surprises as they set sail in their big red boat.

The funny, loveable Twirlywoos are brought to life on stage with beautifully inventive puppetry promising an hour of colourful fun and laughter. From the producers of The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show, Twirlywoos Live is an enchanting introduction to theatre for all ages.

1.30pm and 4pm

Tickets from £12

Phone: Middleton Arena 0300 303 8633 


Middleton Arena, LCpl Joel Halliwell VC Way, Middleton M24 1AG

Thursday 01 June – Sunday 4th June

LaTraviata Verdi

Following the success of their production of La Boheme last year, The City of Manchester Opera returns with a sparkling and joyous production of Verdi’s La Traviata.

Welcome to an evening of brisk fun, drama and moments of intimacy that inspired some of the most profound and heartfelt music, from the joyous ‘Brindisi’ to the spine tingling and emotional ‘Addio’. This is a production not to be missed.

This will be sung in Italian, with English surtitles.

Ticket sales will be directly from the Hope Mill Theatre box office. Do book early to avoid disappointment, particularly for Saturday and Sunday.


Phone: Box Office: 0161 275 9141

Visit: Box Office:

7.30 pm Thursday, Friday, Saturday

3.00 pm Sunday

Hope Mill Theatre, 113 Pollard Street, Manchester M4 7JA.

Visit: Box Office:

Friday 02 June

Totally Tina

Come shake a tail feather with the UK’s supreme Tina – Justine Riddoch – and her talented cast.

This breath-taking recreation of a live Tina Turner concert celebrates the golden anniversary of the Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll’s signature tune Proud Mary. Tina’s no-holds-barred take of the song established a reputation for fearsome live performances – and those never-ending legs!

Early hits, including River Deep – Mountain High and Nutbush City Limits, were just a taste of what was to come. We Don’t Need Another Hero, Simply the Best, What’s Love Got to Do With It, I Don’t Wanna Lose You and When the Heartache is Over propelled Tina to stadium concert stardom.

Supported by her dazzling dancing girls in sequins, feathers and diamonds, Justine recreates those famed live performances.

The SUPREME Tina (National Tribute Awards), she’s got the looks, she’s got the moves, but most of all, she’s got THE voice. Join an army of loyal fans for a truly authentic, fun-packed musical spectacular!

Tickets from £25

Phone: Middleton Arena 0300 303 8633 



Middleton Arena, LCpl Joel Halliwell VC Way, Middleton M24 1AG

On until Sunday 04 June

Gallery Exhibitions: Prints & Acrylics and Phenix Textiles

Buli Corby - Prints & Acrylics

Phenix Textiles

Most items on display are available to purchase.


Phone: Littleborough Coach House 01706 378481


10am - 3pm

Littleborough Coach House, Lodge Street, Littleborough OL15 9AE

An oasis of positivity supporting individual and community wellbeing.

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