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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA


previews, reviews, interviews, and recommendations with Steve Cooke


Preview by Steve Cooke

Hopwood Hall College Rochdale Art&Design Saturday Club gives members the opportunity to attend free Saturday morning classes in their local area. The aim is to nurture the young people’s talent, build their confidence and give them the chance to explore industry art workshops, studios, and galleries to gain experience of different careers within the creative industries.

Young people will take part in Saturday sessions guided by professional artists and designers. Each Saturday class is different with opportunities to create work with the nearby Touchstones Art Gallery, with focus on experimentation and sustainability whilst expressing your personalities, interests, and creativity. Young people will explore exciting exhibitions and outdoor environments for inspiration.

Members will develop their creative skills using drawing, photography, sculpture, printmaking and more. Creativity in Rochdale has no boundaries, there are limitless artistic possibilities, where individuals are encouraged to express themselves and supported to progress throughout the year.

Club members will also take part in free national events including the Summer Show, where Saturday Clubs nationwide exhibit their work in a public exhibition, and Masterclasses with leading industry professionals.

Bastions of the Music Scene – Freda Farnworth soprano and J Edward Rigg at TLC

Review by Dr Joe Dawson

Freda Farnworth trained at the Guildhall in London. She has sung professionally in the UK and abroad and been a well-loved musician in the borough, as soloist, teacher, conductor, and producer, for many years.

She was accompanied by another local music bastion, Wardle-born J Edward Rigg, who taught in Rochdale for 18 years prior to taking over the family business, whilst continuing his musicmaking. He is President of Rochdale Phoenix Opera Society and organiser of the Littleborough Coach House monthly lunchtime concerts. Both have made significant contributions to Rochdale music.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s My Favourite things was a suitable introduction to diverse vocal gems from Freda’s extensive range: moving Shakespeare settings by Quilter, classically elegant Mozart, dramatic show songs; plus, a reflective interlude from Edward with Dvorak’s Humoresque.

All this culminated in audience participation with a Gracie Fields tribute singalong that included The Co-op Shop, with the original right across the way in Toad Lane.

A hugely enjoyable recital by two pillars of the local music scene.

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

Cast and Creative Team in Rehearsal for the Octagon’s Festive Production

Preview by Steve Cooke

The Christmas season has officially arrived in Bolton as the Octagon start rehearsals for their festive production – a brand-new musical adaptation of the adventure classic, Around the World in 80 Days. It’s just three weeks until the show opens and will be entertaining audiences right across the festive period, from Thursday 16 November 2022 – Saturday 6 January 2023.

Some of the cast took time out of rehearsals to visit Bury’s Transport Museum, getting in the driver’s seat of some of the vehicles and modes of transport their characters will travel on around the globe.

Polly Lister (One Man, Two Guvnors and Hound of the Baskervilles, Octagon Theatre Bolton) who leads the cast as eccentric explorer Lady Philleas Fogg and Kai Spellman (Billie The Kid, Kyriacos & Company and Dominion Theatre, Ali and Dahlia, Pleasance Theatre) who plays Passepartout, visited the local attraction recently and had plenty of fun.

Polly Lister said: “I am super excited to be back here working at the Octagon, the team here are great. I think the audience will love this show and I’m excited to see how they embrace the story. We had such fun in Bury at the Transport Museum and getting the VIP access to all the modes of transport was thrilling.”

Kai Spellman added: “Seeing all the old vehicles really helped imagine and step into the world we are creating. I’ve always heard great stories about the Octagon so working here for the first time is a dream come true and I can’t wait to share our 80 days story as part of this festive season.”

This world premiere musical adaptation of Jules Verne’s story has been adapted for the stage by Kate Ferguson and Susannah Pearse, the writers who penned the Octagon’s 2022 festive production A Christmas Carol and 2019’s Treasure Island, comes this sensational new musical stage production, directed by Kash Arshad (An Adventure, Octagon Theatre).

Joining Polly and Kai, the full cast includes: Emma Fenney (A Christmas Carol, Antic Disposition, A Midsummer Night’s Dream Live Online Production, Octagon Theatre Bolton and Guildford Shakespeare Company) as Lady Eliza Sullivan; Robert Jackson (Peter Pan, Octagon Theatre Bolton, Brief Encounter, Octagon Theatre Bolton, Stephen Joseph Theatre and Theatre by the Lake) as Sir John Sullivan; Darren Kuppan (Let the Right One In, Royal Exchange Theatre, The Jungle Book, Grosvenor Open Air Theatre and Chester Storyhouse) as Khatri; and Charlotte Linighan (The Booth Show and Spinach, The Edge Theatre) as Felicity Fanshaw. Completing the cast is Olivia Chandler who will be the company swing, marking her professional debut.

The creative team includes Katie Scott (designer); Sam Sommerfeld (musical director); Jennifer Kay (movement director); Jane Lalljee (lighting designer); Mark Melville (sound designer); Rebecca Applin (additional orchestrations and arrangements).

Wealthy and eccentric entrepreneur Lady Phileas Fogg makes a bet that she can travel around the world in just 80 days...but surely it can’t be done? With her entire fortune on the line, Phileas sets off from London in a wild dash across the globe. Travelling through fascinating and exotic lands, Phileas and friends get into all sorts of adventures. They jump from boats to trains, trek across Europe to Asia, celebrate Diwali in India and soar through the Americas battling storms and bandits. Will they make it back to London in time for Christmas or will the bet be lost?

Around the World in 80 Days comes to the Octagon from Thu 16 November 2023 – Sat 6 January 2024. Tickets start from £15 and are on-sale now.

Find out more and book tickets via the Octagon Box Office on 01204 520661 or at Octagon Theatre, Howell Croft South Bolton BL1 1SB.

Romeo and Juliet – Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre

Review by Seamus Kelly

I don’t usually start a review with a strong recommendation, but for this production of Romeo and Juliet I am glad to make an exception. This is an excellent show and well worth seeing if you can before the run ends on 18th November.

This new production directed by Nicholai La Barrie and starring Shalisha James-Davis (Juliet) and Conor Glean (Romeo), takes Shakespeare’s tragic tale and places it into a Manchester with all of its modern sensibilities, its swagger, and its language.

The cast speak with authentic Manchester accents throughout and, although some purists might not like it, it effectively brings the story home to a modern audience in a northern city. When members of the Capulets, and Montagues, speak to their cousins the pronunciation “cuz” (with typical deep uh sound) feels very natural.

We began with a comic moment as the friar, apparently an audience member with ticket issues, argues with an usher before staggering onto the stage, shopping bags and all, to deliver the opening speech. The audience clearly enjoyed the small changes to the script to reference Manchester and when directions to Ashton Road were given there was lots of laughter.

The aggression and violence between the two families was portrayed with some gusto and weapons ranging from traditional swords to the more modern kitchen knives, baseball bats and even a Stanly knife.

When delivering soliloquies the actors addressed the audience directly, often moving from person to person, making eye contact and really engaging with them. The audience were also engaged in the scene where Romeo sees and finally meets Juliet at a party in the Capulet’s castle, when audience members joined in with the dancing as Juliet acted as DJ and singer. The mood and action would have been in keeping with any present-day party or club in Manchester. Romeo meanwhile is the only one in the room who doesn’t want to dance and party, at least not until he has the chance to meet Juliet.

In the original Shakespeare version Romeo goes to a poor and somewhat desperate apothecary to illegally buy his poison. Here, in a stroke of genius, Romeo goes to street drug dealers, dressed all in black as they circle the stage on their BMX bikes, and the deal is done in a way that is familiar to many of us who have seen such deals taking place on the streets.

The funeral scene was extraordinarily powerful with somber lighting, thunder and lightning flashes and water falling on stage as rain as the mourners gathered around the “dead” Juliet, protected by black umbrellas.

The story is tragic but there were times of absolute joy and comedy, and the director and actors hope to bring something new out of the story with hope and understanding. Romeo actor, Conor Glean, asked about what he’d like audiences to take away with them, said “I want them to come away and see a young couple walking down the street, holding hands, smiling at each other and I want them to be moved by that. I want them to look at the softness in the world and think ‘yo’, let's give some more time to that, please’”. Co-star, Shalisha James-Davis, agreed, saying “Yeah, absolutely. Like, double tap that!”. As a no-longer-young couple walking back to the station, holding hands, and smiling at each other, I’d say we agree with that sentiment completely.

The cast as a whole put on a great show and the outstanding performances for me included.

Conor Glean, who portrayed Romeo as a rough around the edges, thuggish young man who is changed when he falls in love with Juliet. His delivery of lines like “Love is heavy and light, bright and dark, hot and cold, sick and healthy, asleep and awake – it’s everything except what it is!” was direct and powerful, perhaps not the typical dramatic performance we might expect, but very effective indeed.

Lady Capulet, brilliantly played by Kate Hampson, as a female head of the family rather that the traditional patriarch, is exactly what you would expect from the matriarch of a Manchester gangster family, pushy and strong and able to switch from supportive to oppressive in an instant. This Lady Capulet is the kind of Manchester mum you wouldn’t want to cross.

The character of a dark and moody Mercutio from David Judge was delivered superbly. Judge became an intimidating gangster, with an attitude much larger than his stature, and could turn on a kind of sinister charm that in turn was even more unsettling.

The play runs until 18th November, at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. As I said at the start of this review, I suggest you should go and wee it if you get the chance.

TLC October with Voices Galore, Classical Guitar and Piano

Review by Dr Joe Dawson

October 04: London-born baritone John Powell studied music at Cambridge, before settling in Manchester. He initially ran the choirs at Chetham's for many years. He now teaches privately and directs several choirs and large-scale performances.

Welsh pianist and organist Elin Rees is an accompanist at the RNCM, where she had studied.

Songs by Beethoven and English Art-songs were all worthy of a professional CD recording. A sophisticated and satisfying recital, beautifully sung and played by these two distinguished northwest performers.

October 11: Richard Haslam guitar (Hull University & RNCM) played Ferdinando Sor’s Mozart variations and Birds and Benga Beat by Gary Ryan then joined by Anna Chiu piano (Hong Kong & RNCM) for the iconic Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo. Fantastic performances from two stunning players.

October 18: Oldham Community Choir conducted by Jonathan Gibson (RNCM) and accompanied by J Edward Rigg. A popular varied programme of songs from the shows and some serious and not so serious. The mixed voice choir continued their mission to sing for fun, give pleasure and to entertain.

October 25: Freda Farnworth soprano (Guildhall) has performed professionally and been a pillar of music-making in the borough for many years, as soloist, teacher, conductor, and producer.

She was accompanied by another local music bastion, Wardle-born J Edward Rigg, who additionally contributed a solo piano interlude. My Favourite Things was an appropriate introduction to a variety of vocal gems in Freda’s diverse range all rounded off with a Gracie Fields tribute singalong that included the Co-op shop, with the original right across the way in Toad Lane.

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.


Sunday 12 November

Girlz World

A non-stop DIVA extravaganza!

If you are a fan of pop music, then you definitely need to check out 'Girlz World'.

This lively and inspirational tribute show is perfect to see with your friends, family, or even on your own.

A place to be yourself and have fun, you're sure to have a great time singing along to all your favourite songs as we celebrate some of today’s sensational Pop Artists including, Ariana Grande, PINK! Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Dua Lipa, Katy Perry and Little Mix.

Tickets from £18

Phone: Middleton Arena 0300 303 8633 


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

Tuesday 14 November

Edwin Waugh Dialect Society

Tonight's session is "Lancashire - A Lost Heritage". ​Paul is a writer and historian, mostly covering aspects of Lancashire history and culture. His new book 'Lancastrians: Mills, Mines and Minarets' (Hurst &Co. 2023) explores Lancashire identity - past, present, and future - and asks if there could be an opportunity for a 'Greater Lancastria' which restores at least some of the historic county.

In the Chair: Jim Saville

Edwin Waugh Dialect Society meetings are held on the second Tuesday of every month (previously Wednesday) from October to June, commencing at 7.30pm at St Andrew's Methodist and United Reformed Church, Rochdale (between Rochdale Leisure Centre and Aldi). There is free onsite parking.

Annual subscription is £5, but voluntary donations at each meeting help defray the cost of the room hire. Your first meeting is free.

Formed in 1938 by a group of Lancashire Dialect enthusiasts, the objects of the society are the maintaining and increasing of interest in Lancashire.

At the meetings, members are entertained by a speaker or a performer.

Visit the link below for the full 2022 calendar.

Phone: 01706 826227


7.30pm start - 9pm

St Andrew's Methodist and United Reformed Church, Entwistle Road, Rochdale OL16 2HZ

Wednesday 15 November

Toad Lane Concerts - Rochdale's Weekly Music at Lunchtime

This week we have The Kell Wind Trio: Alastair Roberts flute Geoffrey Smith clarinet & Alex Kane bassoon.

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 15 November

Rochdale Photographic Society

Tonight's session - Mini-print completion 4x4.

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.

Entry fee: £2.50 for room fee

Phone: Secretary - Ed Whitaker


Doors open 7.15pm, 7.30pm start.

Rochdale Unitarian Church, Clover Street, Rochdale OL12 6TP

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

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