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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA


previews, reviews, interviews, and recommendations with Steve Cooke

Rochdale Pioneers are looking for an am-dram group to participate in short sketch sequence to be videoed for their anniversary. They would like to involve local people in a Gracie Fields inspired sketch.

If your group would like to participate, please Email:

Situated in Rochdale Town Centre the Rochdale Pioneers Museum is widely regarded as the home of the worldwide Co-operative movement. 179 years ago, on December 21, 1844, the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society opened their first little store selling pure, unadulterated food at fair prices and honest weights and measures.

The Pioneers started a revolution in retailing which has played a significant part in our lives ever since. The ground floor of the museum faithfully recreates the original shop together with its rudimentary furniture and scales. Here the basic needs of daily life such as butter, sugar, flour, and oatmeal first went on sale 179 years ago.

In the display and exhibition area you can learn of the inspiration the Pioneers received from visionaries such as the great social reformer Robert Owen; see how the profits from the shop were returned to the members in the form of a 'dividend'; and watch the story unfold of the Co-op's subsequent success. The Pioneers used the room upstairs to provide members with further education. Now you can journey back in time as you view examples of early advertising, packaging, and retailing artefacts. Special displays feature a unique collection of Co-operative postage stamps, commemorative china and plateware and rare dividend coins and commodity tokens.

Open Wednesday-Saturday 10.30-16.00

Rochdale Pioneers Museum

31 Toad Lane, Rochdale, Greater Manchester, OL12 0NU

Phone: 0)1706 524920


To mark the official opening of Manchester’s enormous Aviva Studios – the new permanent home of Factory International - Free Your Mind, a reimagining of the cult, seminal film The Matrix is the perfect show to highlight the full extent of this wonderful performance/exhibition space’s potential.

The invited audience were invited to follow the white rabbit [literally] to be taken on a thrilling journey through the film’s most iconic scenes being realised through stunning hip hop dance with extraordinary costumes, music, and visual effects.

Created by Danny Boyle [Director], Es Devlin [Set designer], Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy [Choreographer], Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante [Composer], Sabrina Mahfouz [Book writer] with Lucy Carter [Lighting designer], Gareth Fry [Sound designer] and Luke Halls [Video/projection designer].

The core team of creatives have some track record with Danny Boyle having worked previously with the co-founders of hip-hop dance company Boy Blue – Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy and Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante on a segment involving hundreds of dancers for the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony and Es Devlin, who has worked on everything from the 2012 Closing Ceremony to the Super Bowl half-time show in 2022.

Together, with writer Sabrina Mahfouz they are the creators of a piece featuring 50 professional dancers from the North West and across the UK, and almost 100 participants from Greater Manchester.

The Matrix hit cinema screens in 1999 since when a tremendous amount of change has occurred in the everyday technology affecting our lives including such as social media, google, amazon, smart phones, and all-seeing CCTV.

Free Your Mind opens in the Hall - Aviva Studios’ 1,603-seat theatre and concert space – with and AI simulation of Alan Turing on a 1940’s television. Ian Harris dances as Turing as his words take us through how the computer scientist came to the city in 1948 to work on the Manchester Baby, the first machine with memory. Resonating with the current debate around the future of AI we are asked ‘Should we have worried at machines being able to think?’ Poignantly we are also given a glimpse of Turing’s personal tragedy as a gay man in post-war England.

Matrix motifs then bombard our senses with Corey Owens as Neo, the handsome hacker on the run, Nicey Belgrave his love interest Trinity rocking a red wig and long black leather coat, Mikey Ureta, looking sharp in sunglasses, leading the troop of predatory agents. One memorable segment calls to mind the amniotic pods of the film; mouths pressed up against the fabric in silent howls.

For the interval we follow white rabbits into the cavernous public space to encounter ‘floating’ agents that makes us gasp and reach for our phones.

For the second half we are divided into two groups, red banded and blue banded, and guided into the Warehouse, demonstrating the space’s versatility, and looking very different from my last visit for the MIF23 Yayoi Kusama’s You, Me, and the balloons exhibition. This space, that is almost as long as a Boeing 747, has a catwalk stage slicing through its centre and similarly long, narrow video screens above it. As the video screen rises, we see our red banded fellow audience members situated on the other side of the catwalk.

We are blitzed with striking images, both on stage and on screen. Gareth Pugh’s costumes stunningly capture technology in wearable form, from the familiar blue ticks and thumbs-up of social media to ominously ubiquitous CCTV surveillance cameras.

Free Your Mind is an ensemble affair, the brilliantly directed and choreographed dancers working crisply and with great style in numerous battle scenes – plus some welcome moments of genuine humour and style.

We rapturously applauded for several minutes at the end with several of the ensemble seeming genuinely moved. The applause should also be shared with the wonderful staff and volunteers that made this the perfect opening for Manchester’s new creative hub - a welcoming, inclusive, exciting, and stimulating space.

Old Courtroom Comedy Night

Old Courtroom Comedy Nights, right in the centre of Rochdale are gaining a growing reputation for hearty laughs camaraderie plus a little culinary adventure with Bombay Brew’s delectable Indian Street Food.

Jon Pearson, Jenny Hart, Jack Miller, Anna Belle, and Lou Conran.

Jon Pearson’s laid-back storytelling has audiences hanging on his every word. With tales based around his own life experiences, his anecdotes are relatable and certain to have people in hysterics. After 5 years working the UK comedy circuit, Jon is now regularly found at the biggest and best comedy clubs across the UK including The Glee Club, The Comedy Store and Jongleurs, both as an act and a compere.

Jenny Hart

An excitedly funny and energetic musical comedian hailing from the South but hiding out in the North her wrong songs and clever observations have garnered awards and followers in equal measure… Three!! Known as being a bold, brash, and shameless powerhouse.

Jack Miller

Jack Miller is a scouse observational comedian; his relatable material have been told to audiences up and down the country. His storytelling and stage presence continues to grow his reputation.

Anna Belle

Annabelle Devey has had a significant impact on the comedy scene in the UK, showcasing her talents at well-known venues like The Glee Club, Frog and Bucket, and Just The Tonic. She has earned a reputation as an immensely appealing performer, possessing a unique charm, and delivering impressive punchlines.

After her first sell-out split show for the women in comedy festival, Annabelle has stormed the Manchester circuit with her down to earth delivery, and nonchalant charisma. Annabelle discusses topics, close to her heart, but does not hold back on what she really thinks.

Lou Conran

Lou started stand-up comedy in 2006 and has gigged regularly ever since. She gigs up and down the country and is a regular MC for Comedy Central- Liverpool’s Baby Blue, Frog & Bucket - Manchester, Hilarity Bites, Buzz Comedy, she has supported Sarah Millican, has been delighting audiences with her naughty but nice delivery, her friendly presence, and her instinctive wit.

Friday 17 November, 7.30pm, The Old Courtroom, The Flying Horse, 37 Packer Street, Rochdale OL16 1NJ

Tickets are available at The Flying Horse Bar or online don’t wait too long, as they’re sure to sell out quickly!


Manchester’s new cultural landmark Aviva Studios certainly has the WOW factor. A stunning architectural achievement at the cutting edge of performance space technology.

The OMA-designed venue, the new permanent home of Factory International, is the UK’s largest investment in a national cultural project since the opening of Tate Modern in 2000.

World-leading artists Danny Boyle, Es Devlin, Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy, Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante and Sabrina Mahfouz collaborate on opening production Free Your Mind, a dramatic reimagining of the classic sci-fi film The Matrix.

2024 programme highlights announced at the press conference include Robert Wilson and CocoRosie’s adaptation of The Jungle Book, Ivan Blackstock’s TRAPLORD and new works by Laurie Anderson, Maxine Peake and more.

This is now the permanent home of Factory International, officially opened ton 18 October with the world premiere of Free Your Mind, a large-scale immersive performance based on The Matrix. Bringing together a world-leading creative team and 50 professional dancers, this dramatic reimagining of the classic 1999 sci-fi film has been designed especially for Aviva Studios and takes place throughout the building’s ultra-flexible spaces.

Directed by Danny Boyle, Free Your Mind brings together the visceral movement of choreographer Kenrick ‘H2O’ Sandy with a powerful score from renowned composer Michael ‘Mikey J’ Asante (co-founders and artistic directors of the Olivier award-winning Boy Blue), set design by world-leading artist and designer Es Devlin and the work of the acclaimed writer Sabrina Mahfouz.

Designed by Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), Aviva Studios is a global destination for arts, music and culture located at the heart of the new St John’s neighbourhood in Manchester, a burgeoning city centre hub for creativity and digital innovation. The development is led by Manchester City Council, with backing of £99.05m from HM Government and £7m National Lottery funding from Arts Council England. It is supported by Aviva, the UK's leading Insurance, Wealth and Retirement business, as principal partner to the venue.

The design of the 13,350-square-metre building is based around large, open, flexible spaces that can be constantly reconfigured, enabling artists to create large-scale ambitious works of a kind not seen anywhere else in the world, and providing a canvas to make, explore and experiment. The 21-metre-high Warehouse is the ultimate flexible performance space with capacity for up to 5,000 people standing. It is taller than four double decker buses stacked on top of each other and just under the length of a Boeing 747 aeroplane, and can be divided by a movable, full-height acoustic wall. The Hall features a flexible stage and can house an audience of up to 1,603 seated or 2,000 standing. The Warehouse and the Hall can also work together, with the proscenium capable of opening fully into the Warehouse and allowing the stage to run deeper into the building. The design of Aviva Studios has been led by OMA Partner Ellen van Loon and is the practice’s first major public project in the UK.

Programmed and operated by Factory International, the organisation behind Manchester International Festival, Aviva Studios will host a year-round programme of original productions and special events across all artforms – from major exhibitions and concerts to intimate performances and immersive experiences.

2024 programme highlights include original live performances by world-renowned artists. Visionary director Robert Wilson teams up with surreal folk duo CocoRosie to retell Kipling’s renowned novel Jungle Book (March 2024), their fourth theatre collaboration; Maxine Peake, Sarah Frankcom, and Imogen Knight join forces with Gazelle Twin and Daisy Johnson to present a feminist theatrical reimagining of John Bowen’s Robin Redbreast - first broadcast as part of the BBC’s Play for Today series in 1970 and widely regarded as a precursor to The Wicker Man (Robin/Red/Breast, May 2024); award-winning dance artist and cultural innovator Ivan Michael Blackstock presents the Olivier award-winning TRAPLORD (Sept 2024), a dance performance meditating on life, death and rebirth; and a new music and multi-media theatrical experience by Laurie Anderson, ARK (Nov 2024) will explore how the world needs to change in order to be saved. Other highlights include a visual feast for the senses by the award-winning Marshmallow Laser Feast (July to Aug 2024), a stage spectacle combining Chinese and South Asian dance, data, and video from multi-disciplinary artist Keith Khan (May 2024) and an interactive symphony by Chinese composer Huang Ruo and BBC Philharmonic (June 2024).

Following Free Your Mind, Aviva Studios will host The Welcome (11-19 Nov 23), a nine-day programme of music, circus, art and fashion developed by Greater Manchester residents – an invitation from local people to celebrate the new cultural space, Johnny Marr presents two nights of music with an orchestra made up of northern musicians (7-8 Dec), and a stage adaptation of Oliver Jeffers’ award-winning book Lost and Found (13 Dec 23 – 6 Jan 24) from BAFTA award-winning director Will Brenton with music from Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals will close out the year.

Aviva Studios will also add to the city’s thriving music scene, presenting a rich selection of gigs, including in-house concerts and collaborations with local and national promotors. More details of these and other programme will be announced over the coming months.

As one of the most important cultural developments in Europe, Aviva Studios is predicted to add £1.1 billion to the economy of Manchester and the surrounding region over the next decade, creating or supporting up to 1,500 direct and indirect jobs and providing skills, training, and creative opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Through the Factory Academy, Aviva Studios will become a major training centre for the creative workforce of the future, providing opportunities for careers in creative industries, Manchester’s fastest-growing sector, while talent development initiatives will create opportunities for artists from the North of England, particularly those most underrepresented in the sector.

New opportunities, which have just opened for application, include Artist Takeover, a new Factory International programme which offers artists from any discipline the chance to experiment in Aviva Studios’ flexible spaces, alongside guidance from industry experts; the annual Factory Fellowship which gives emerging artists the chance to work and learn alongside international creatives; and Factory Sounds which provides opportunities for creatives involved in Greater Manchester’s music scene.

Reflecting Factory International’s commitment to ensuring access to the widest possible audiences, 5,000 tickets have been made available for Free Your Mind at £10 or less as part of an affordable pricing strategy that will see discounted and Aviva £10 tickets for Manchester communities across its year-round programme.

John McGrath, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of Factory International, said: “I’m so excited and proud to be welcoming audiences to the official opening of our magnificent new home. At every stage in imagining and building this extraordinary space, we have focused on creating new possibilities – for artists to let their imaginations fly, for citizens of Manchester and the world to meet and dream, and for people of all ages and backgrounds to build skills and gain experience. Our official opening production, the Matrix-inspired Free Your Mind has been created especially for this moment by an incredible team, alongside an extraordinary mix of dancers, creatives, and local participants, and is uniquely designed to showcase the versatility and ambition of the space. We can’t wait to welcome you all to experience it!”

Cllr Bev Craig, Leader of Manchester City Council, said: “Today is a landmark moment for culture not just in Manchester but the North of England and indeed the UK as a whole. This internationally-important venue, extraordinary in its scale and ambition, will open up a world of possibilities for people in this city – inspiring creativity and nurturing careers in the arts. As a major new visitor destination, Aviva Studios will also create and support a great many jobs and add to the vibrancy which makes Manchester such an exciting city. It’s a unique venue, a real asset for the future which will stimulate minds and spirits as well as acting as a catalyst to economic growth and opportunities.”

Sir Nicholas Serota, Chair, Arts Council England, said: “Aviva Studios is set to make a huge difference to the social, economic, and cultural life of people across Greater Manchester and the North, as well as attracting national and international visitors to the city. Manchester International Festival has demonstrated that ambitious projects can stretch our imagination and that there is a need for a space of this size and versatility in Manchester. This extraordinary building will allow Factory International to build on its international reputation for developing and delivering world class artistic activity and will enable young people to forge a career in the arts. None of this would have been possible without the public funding invested in the development nor without the commitment of Manchester City Council and its belief that culture really can transform lives. Congratulations to everyone who has contributed to this landmark achievement.”

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said: “From dance and theatre to concerts and exhibitions, there will be something for everyone at this state-of-the-art new venue, which was made possible through nearly £100 millions of government funding. Aviva Studios will maximise the potential of the creative industries in Manchester and beyond, creating opportunities for local talent and bringing more world-class culture to the city. The Government's support for this venue demonstrates our commitment to increasing access to arts and creativity across the country and I look forward to seeing the positive impact it brings to Manchester, both culturally and economically.”

This is the most exciting project for creatives that I have seen, and I urge you to have a look for yourselves – whether at a show or exhibition of to enjoy a drink or some food in the most welcoming, inclusive, and welcoming space I have experienced.


Wednesday 08 November

Rochdale Photographic Society

Tonight's session - Portrait Night (Male Model Mark Benn).

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

Wednesday 08 November

Sing As You Go Concert

Concert of easy listening music played by the Rochdale Light Orchestra with Gracie Fields Songs sung by Freda Farnworth.


Phone: Graham Marshall 07795 671768



St. Michael's Church, Bamford, Bury and Rochdale Old Road, Bamford, Rochdale OL10 4BB.

celebrating creative arts and artists - an oasis of positivity supporting individual and community wellbeing.

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