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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA



previews, reviews, interviews, and recommendations with Steve Cooke




Russell Maliphant: broadcasts of dance productions are 'vital' for access

Review by Steve Cooke

Choreographer Russell Maliphant Dance Company’s Vortex inspired by the works of American abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, was broadcast on BBC Four on January 21. It was filmed by Martin Collins from Arts Trust Production and if you missed it I can highly recommend you catch it on BBC iPlayer – even if you think you aren’t interested in dance!

Russell Maliphant has described broadcasts of dance productions as a "vital" way to boost access to people who would not normally be able to watch shows in a theatre.

Maliphant said: "I think it’s vital [to broadcast these shows]. We don’t want to lock people out of art. It should be accessible; I don’t think it’s a luxury. Just like dance shouldn’t be a luxury, it should be something we should all be able to access."

At a time when conversations surrounding ticket prices for live theatre and dance continue to plague the sector, Maliphant called filming Vortex a "great opportunity", and said "relative to television", performances could have a "fairly small reach".

He said: "It is great to put it out there [...]. In a tour or two nights at Sadler’s Wells, we’re reaching 3,000 people. We’ll hopefully reach more than that when it’s televised, and I hope that’s a positive thing."

Vortex opens with a figure standing before what looks like a huge canvas, surrounded by shadows. The scene is lit in gold, casting his movements on to the surface in front of him, his movements depict the artist at his easel.

Maliphant uses the dancers physical gestures, simple props, and beautiful lighting to mine the idea of Pollock’s action paintings – so-called because of how the artist roamed around and across his canvases to achieve his drip technique.

The huge plywood ‘canvas’ platform, wheeled around the stage, is both acts as a backdrop for the light shows, and tilted or laid flat for dancers to perform on. A bucket on a wire is sent flying in ever-decreasing circles, with which the dancers played an elegant game of dodge. Fine white sand, dispensed from a spinning canister or rained from the flies, gradually covers the stage, swirled into patterns by the dancers’ feet and bodies so that by the end there is an artwork on the floor. Colour filled patterns are projected on to a huge length of diaphanous fabric as it is made to billow and ripple.

The dancers are mesmerising to watch throughout, channelling the graceful strength of Maliphant’s choreography into a Zen-like flow. All five have a concentrated fluidity, even when somehow performing on that moving platform when it is pitched at a steep tilt.

Charlie Brittain’s light, cat-like suppleness is captivating; alongside Maliphant’s arcing classical lines are disrupted by the street-dance specialist Paris Crossley’s thrilling displays of popping. In a solo during which she is gently covered with flowing sand, razor-sharp, juddering movements with martial arts moves swirled into the mix.

Powering it all is Katya Richardson’s evocative, Cage-inspired score, apparently created with sounds derived solely from a piano – from insistent knocks and creaks to urgently distorted crescendos that could be from the Chernobyl TV series soundtrack. Absorbing and meditative, particularly in its first half, the piece is powerfully serene, dynamically quiet – much like the Pollock masterpieces it alludes to.

Give it a go, you won’t regret it.


Imogen Garner mezzo-soprano and John Gough piano 17/01/2024

Review by Dr Joe Dawson


Despite the bitterly cold snap, once again, the weekly Toad Lane Concerts at St Mary in the Baum featured top class performers.


Initially mezzo-soprano Imogen Garner studied Economics at Sheffield University, then following a year’s teacher training changed career and studied at the RNCM. She has covered several roles with English National Opera and the Buxton Festival, sung live on the BBC and performed with several opera companies and choral societies.


John Gough enjoys a busy career combining solo playing, accompaniment, and teaching at the RNCM. He has broadcast many times on BBC Radio 3 and has performed at the Wigmore Hall and as soloist with the RLPO and Northern Chamber Orchestras, and overseas.


We began with the sumptuous song cycle Zigeunerlieder (Gypsy Songs) Op 103 by Brahms.  This was followed by lyrical and magical settings by English composer Eric Thiman and Dutch American film composer Richard Hageman. As with Brahms the rapport between singer and pianist is essential and Imogen and John proved to be a captivating duo.


Imogen shared that she enjoyed recent forays as ‘battle-axe’ characters in Gilbert and Sullivan operas and sang two examples of roles using her glorious contralto tone.


This sophisticated recital ended with the delightfully irreverent piece by Murray Grand, ‘What’s a lady like me doing in a joint like this?’ The charming irony brought the house down, demanding a return to ‘a joint like this’. Gypsy, lyrical poet, battle-axe, and lady – all grist to the mill for Imogen, superbly aided and abetted by John Gough.


FRAG (Friends of Rochdale Art Gallery) visited the Arts & Heritage Resource Centre

Review by Dr Joe Dawson


FRAG (Friends of Rochdale Art Gallery) visited the Arts & Heritage Resource Centre (Unit 4, Scotts Industrial Park, Fishwick Street, Rochdale), for a genial and fruitful update and planning meeting with Your Trust staff and a guided tour of the art galleries and museum collections.


Since the closure of Touchstones in August 2023 for extensive refurbishment and renovation, there has not been a gallery for FRAG to be friends of!


This came on top of much change and disruption in recent ‘interesting times’ with the pandemic and the change of the traditional monthly meeting day. However, the Friends are keen to stay alive and thriving until 2025 when the new Phoenix will rise.


Mark Doyle (Director of Arts, Heritage, and Wellness) outlined plans for exciting new developments whilst restoring its heritage, which should revitalise arts provision in the borough and beyond.


Sarah Hodgkinson (Senior Curator, Exhibitions & Collections) talked through the programme of FRAG talks and events that she had devised for them for 2024. These will take place on the second Thursday of each month following the FRAG AGM on 8 February at Rochdale Music Service, 7-11 The Butts, Rochdale OL16 1XT at 13:00.


Sarah rounded this off with a fascinating tour of the collections stored in the Tardis-like Arts & Heritage Resource Centre. Like a sneak peek in the wings of a theatre, the engine room of a liner, or a restaurant kitchen, the magical mystery tour behind the scenes revealed a complex world replete with racks of paintings in various states of conservation, carefully notated and preserved objects ancient and modern, even a 3D printer copying an ammonite fossil near to Ancient Egyptian artefacts.


A strengthened symbiotic relationship between FRAG and Your Trust augers well for the future.


Next FRAG meeting – all welcome …

AGM on 8 February 2024 - 13:00 for 13:30

Annual Subscriptions £10; entry is £4 (£3 members)

Rochdale Music Service 7–11 The Butts, Rochdale OL16 1XT

More information from 01706 648872 Dr Joe Dawson, Interim Chair


Preview by Steve Cooke

Thanks to the generous support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Public Health England, Cartwheel Arts [CA] are working on a two-year exploration of the rich heritage crafts flourishing within Rochdale's vibrant communities with experience of forced migration, building on CA’s, ongoing activities, and research with these communities.

Throughout this project, they want to flip the power balance. This means that these communities are positioned as the experts in their craft. Together with skilled heritage craft practitioners, CA will ensure that their voice takes centre stage in shaping the narrative of their diverse heritage, which is preserved and celebrated.

This project will produce the Crafting Heritage Learning Resource, a unique learning resource tailored for primary schools in Rochdale, accompanied by specialised training for teaching staff. To ensure a future for aspects of the borough’s cultural heritage which might otherwise risk becoming endangered. Plus, a ground-breaking eight-week training programme for four artists who have experienced forced migration.

Crafting Heritage will culminate in a celebratory event including a film, exhibition, and community event for Refugee Week in 2025.

The materials created during the project will be archived at Touchstones Rochdale along with the heritage crafts of the communities Cartwheel connects.

CA promotes social inclusion, cohesion, diversity, and regeneration through community participation in vibrant, innovative, high-quality arts projects.

They use a wide range of media to initiate, and respond to, project opportunities in Rochdale, Oldham, Bury, Wigan and North Manchester, as well as promoting the development of the arts and examples of good practice across the North West.

Cartwheel has over 35 years’ experience of promoting imaginative, and often challenging arts projects – never shying from confronting difficult or sensitive issues – with a focus on participation, enabling people who may have had little experience of the arts to explore and develop their creativity and talents, generating a sense of ownership and pride.

If you would like to find out more about what CA are doing and how to get involved, please get in touch with

They also have some amazing volunteer opportunities to get involved in!


Julie Hesmondhalgh brings her one-woman show to the Octagon - These I Love will play for a limited run next month

Preview by Steve Cooke

One of Britain’s finest actors, Julie Hesmondhalgh will present a special intimate performance of her auto-biographical one-woman show at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre for a limited run next month.

Currently on TV screens starring in the ITV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, Julie swaps the small screen for the Octagon stage when she comes to Bolton for just 4 performances from Monday 12 – Friday 16 February and then visits Live Theatre Newcastle on Friday 1 & Saturday 2 March.

Returning to her Lancashire roots, These I Love is a beautiful journey of discovery - a hymn to Julie’s own working-class childhood in Accrington, to her wonderful dad, and to the healing power of daftness.

Following each performance there will be a Q&A with Julie on stage followed by a book signing.

Julie is a passionate supporter of regional theatre and is generously contributing her show to support the Octagon, which is a registered charity.

The award-winning actor has had a distinguished and acclaimed career spanning over 4 decades. Julie starred as the beloved character Hayley Cropper in ITV’s Coronation Street for 16 years. Since then, she has appeared on some of the UK’s biggest TV shows including Happy Valley (BBC), Broadchurch (ITV), Doctor Who (BBC) and is currently receiving huge praise for her role in ITV’s Mr Bates vs The Post Office.

She also has an extensive list of theatre credits and is no stranger to the northern stage, previously treading the boards at some of the top UK northern theatres including Royal Exchange, Oldham Coliseum, Liverpool Playhouse and Leeds Playhouse and now she makes her Octagon debut.

Julie Hesmondhalgh said: “I am incredibly excited to be performing at the Octagon Theatre. I have been an avid attender at the Octagon for many years, so to now be bringing my own show here and supporting the venue is truly wonderful and I cannot wait to share this story with audiences.”

Octagon Artistic Director, Lotte Wakeham added: “I’m absolutely thrilled to be welcoming Julie to the Octagon to perform ‘These I Love’, which is a beautiful piece of writing, celebrating her Dad and her experiences of growing up in Lancashire. Like most people, I’ve been watching Julie’s incredible performance in ‘Mr Bates Vs The Post Office’ on television this January and can’t wait for our audiences to witness her brilliant acting and writing skills live on stage in our intimate auditorium this February. It remains a challenging time for regional theatres, so her support of the Octagon means the world to us.”

These I Love comes to the Octagon Theatre for 4 performances from Mon 12 – Fri 1 February.

Tickets are £25

Octagon Theatre, Howell Croft South, Bolton BL1 1SB

Phone: 01204 520661


Heywood’s First Horror Con

Preview by Katie Haigh

This April Heywood will be holding its first very own Horror Convention.

Two local residents Chris Williams and Kimberley Goldie had the amazing idea of hosting Heywood’s first Horror Con. This is a family friendly event with lots of stalls, characters, and things to do and see.

There will be a cosplay competition and over 30 traders selling everything from t-shirts to handmade props.

In attendance will be four independent horror authors, whom will be doing a Q and A and signing books.

There will be two tattooists offering flash sheet of specially designed tattoos which you can have there and then.

There will be a local ghost hunting team doing some equipment demonstrations and The Museum of Horrors will be doing a talk on what they do and showing off some artefacts.

Also, delicious hot food from local business The Lancashire Wellness Kitchen and last but definitely not least a variety of scare actors ready to take a selfie with you if you dare.

This is a newly formed event, but with support, it could become something Horror fans look forward to year, on year.

Heywood Horror Con will be held at Heywood Sports Village on April 7th from 10 am. to 5 pm.

Entry is £3.50 on advanced tickets or £5 on the door. A percentage of the ticket cost is being donated to The Sophie Lancaster Foundation.

Find more information on Facebook group ‘Heywood Horror Con’.




Saturday 03 February 2024

Circus Spectacular

The Circus Is Coming To Town!

Featuring International Circus Acts, Amazing Magic & Lots Of Laughs.

Our top-class artistes will not only bring skill and suspense during their acts, but they will also all be participating in the production numbers and comedy aspects of the show to the make one truly magical experience. The show will be seamlessly linked together, culminating in one ‘slosh’ style finale, but not to panic as the first four rows shall be provided with rain macs.

Circus Spectacular will have everyone laughing and cheering along in this fantastic circus style variety show.

*Suitable for all ages

Tickets from £16.50

Phone: Middleton Arena 0300 303 8633 


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


Tuesday 06 February 2024

National Theatre Live – Skylight

Written by David Hare

Directed by Stephen Daldry

Returning to the big screen after nearly ten years, Bill Nighy (Living) and Carey Mulligan (Promising Young Woman) feature in the critically acclaimed revival of David Hare’s play, directed by Stephen Daldry (The Audience).

On a bitterly cold London evening, schoolteacher Kyra receives an unexpected visit from her former lover. As the evening progresses, the two attempt to rekindle their once passionate relationship only to find themselves locked in a dangerous battle of opposing ideologies and mutual desires.

Captured live from Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End in 2014.

Tickets from £10

Phone: Middleton Arena 0300 303 8633 


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


Wednesday 07 February 2024

Ed Byrne: Tragedy Plus Time

Attributed to Mark Twain, humour is defined as Tragedy Plus Time. Come and join Ed as he tests that formula by mining the most tragic event in his life for laughs.

Age Guidance: 14+

 Tickets from £27.50

Phone: Middleton Arena 0300 303 8633 


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


Wednesday 07 February 2024

Toad Lane Concerts - Rochdale's Weekly Music at Lunchtime

This week we have Notability mixed voice choir - Lesley Cavanagh piano.

The concert series has been held at St Mary’s since 2001 and was granted the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2020… during the pandemic!

Running every Wednesday, Music at Lunchtime is a weekly live classical music concert series that has been going since the 1960s. The sessions were initially run at the old Rochdale Art Gallery by the local authority, but since May 2001 have been run by volunteer-enthusiasts and artistic director, Dr Joe Dawson.


Phone: Dr Joe Dawson 01706 648872

Doors open 12noon, concert starts 12.30pm - 1.30pm

St Mary in the Baum, Toad Lane/St Mary's Gate, Rochdale OL16 1DZ



Wednesday 07 February 2024

Rochdale Photographic Society

Tonight's session - talk by Steven Rittey - Covid relics.

We meet every Wednesday at Rochdale Unitarian Church, starting at 7.30pm prompt (doors open from 7.15pm). The door is kept locked so please ring the bell on arrival.

If you would like to see the club for yourself and meet our members, you are welcome to attend as our guest for up to 3 weeks before committing to membership. Annual subscription is £36 for single or £46 for joint membership.

A weekly room fee of £2.50 is also payable on arrival at the meeting. Refreshments are 50p.

Visit the link below for a full 2023 syllabus.

£2.50 for room fee

Phone: Secretary - Ed Whitaker

Doors open 7.15pm, 7.30pm start

Rochdale Unitarian Church, Clover Street, Rochdale OL12 6TP



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