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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA


previews, reviews, interviews, and recommendations with Steve Cooke

Brief Encounter at the Royal Exchange

Review by Steve Griffiths

Congratulations to the royal exchange for putting on a great production of Brief Encounter, the much-loved film by Noel Coward, just in time for Xmas festivities. A show that you, and the kids, can go and feel that you had a good time, that you can join in the cheering, but you don’t come out feeling as though you had just had too much of a good thing (I should have left the last bit of Xmas pud!).

The play felt newly minted though it has been around for nearly 10 years. The director, Sarah Frankcom, has a track record with the Exchange (Betty was hers) and it shows. She knows how to use the bare stage to great advantage with minimal but effective props. Her recreation (with designer Rose Revitt) of the huge smoky engines which made the original so striking is tremendously effective. Her work with the actors shows to good effect.

The ensemble playing is wonderful, Having a talented group who can act, sing and, one tap dance, really enhances any play. Especially one that is a play with music. Ida Regan, Beryl the slightly put on waiter, has an amazing voice for such a small frame. As she belts out the Noel Coward songs you look on with wonderment. She can also dance with verve and, when she takes off her glasses, is revealed to be a striking member of the cast. Her fellow tea room worker Christina Modestou, shows the attitudes and voice which made the original film so representative of the times. She revels in the opportunity to give voice and passion to a woman in an ordinary job. Hannah Azuonye shows why she was in that wonderful show Girl from the North Country. Its amazing how she was passive, cultured, and passionate, a great piece of acting. And did I mention that she can sing. And dance. And play the piano.

The music played with wonderful timing uses the songs of Noel Coward. Mad about the Boy; Any little fish; 20c blues. Who knew? The 4-piece band marshalled by Mathew Malone showed exactly how to enhance a production. In addition to the super sound effects that the bass provided they backed up the actors without overwhelming them.

The Exchange appears to have rediscovered its mojo. A full house, great acting, good music what more could you ask for at Xmas?

Until 15 Jan.

Royal Exchange Theatre, St Ann’s Square, Manchester, M2 7DH

Phone: 0161 833 9833


Preview by Steve Cooke

HOME Manchester’s production of the classic Little Women is a festive show full of laughter, tears - and even a little bit of snow!

Anne-Marie Casey’s adaptation of the classic story offers an exciting theatrical experience guaranteed to be a night (or afternoon!) filled with laughter, tears, and a lifting of the spirits.

Published in 1868, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was an immediate critical and commercial success and is now one of the best loved novels of all time. By turns comic, dramatic, romantic, and tragic, the book was inspired by Alcott’s experiences growing up with her three sisters and is the story of the March family: mother Marmee and her daughters, beautiful Meg, tomboy Jo, sensitive Beth, and spoilt Amy, as they struggle to survive in New England during the American Civil War.

This hit show is directed by Brigid Larmour, whose ‘bold and moving’ (WhatsOnStage) The Merchant of Venice 1936 was a sell-out smash hit at HOME and returns to the venue in December.

Original co-production at Pilochry Festival Theatre and Watford Palace Theatre.

Little Women, Until Sat 23 Dec, Duration:2 hours and 20 minutes.

Tickets from £12.50 – £35

Groups of 10 – 39 get 10% off each full price ticket.

Groups of 40+ get 15% off each full price ticket.

Tickets for school groups are £11 each. A teacher gets a free place with every 10 student tickets. This offer is available on weekdays only and must be booked in advance.

For group booking enquiries, please email or call Box Office on 0161 200 1500 (12:00-20:00 daily).

Find HOME at the heart of the city centre, at First St, just off Whitworth St West within easy reach of Manchester’s great public transport links and easily walkable from city centre locations.

2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester M15 4FNManchester Camerata Winter Baroque by Candlelight

Preview by Steve Cooke

A great way for music lovers to start 2024 Manchester Camerata Winter Baroque by Candlelight.

Set in the stunning Great Nave of the Monastery, this concert will be an intimate celebration of baroque music performed in the round led by our Artistic Partner, Daniel Pioro. We will conjure up the grandeur of the baroque greats Bach, Vivaldi, and Rameau, lit by candlelight, This will be a winter warmer featuring our Leader, Caroline Pether, and Principal Cellist Hannah Roberts as soloists alongside Daniel.

With a residency at London’s Southbank Centre and his 2019 proms debut being described as “the most inventive and engaging” by The Daily Telegraph, Daniel Pioro is one of the most exciting violinists on the planet. His stunning album on the Platoon record label, Saint Boy, is a collection of ancient and contemporary, sacred, and secular music for solo violin, chamber organ and string quartet.

Tickets from £20 – £25 + Booking fee – Seats are unreserved seating. The seating block map is on this page.

Best seats in the house are available at £10 for under 30s (limited availability), £3 for Gorton Residents, £5 for Students + Booking fee.


• Bach Violin Concerto in A minor

• Bach Double Violin Concerto in D minor

• Bach Violin Concerto in E major

• Rameau Suite for orchestra (Arr. Parkin)

• Vivaldi Concerto in D Minor for two violins & cello RV 565

• Vivaldi – La Follia (Arr Coult)

Performed by

• Violin Daniel Pioro

• Violin Caroline Pether

• Cello Hannah Roberts

• Manchester Camerata

Winter Baroque by Candlelight

Sun 28 January 2024, 3pm,

The Monastery, Manchester (Gorton), Gorton Lane Manchester

M12 5WF

Tel. 0161 223 3211

The Monastery is a ten-minute drive from Manchester City Centre and there is a free, on-site car park with ample space. You can also get here by train or bus from Manchester Piccadilly.

Call Out for community groups and artists for the Rochdale Festival of Ideas

Preview by Steve Cooke

Got an idea? Here’s your chance to be a part of Rochdale’s new festival.

Rochdale Borough Festival of Ideas launches next year and now organisers are on the look-out for artists and groups who would like to be part of it, with applicants invited to apply for between £300 - £4,000 to help bring their idea to life at the festival.

The major new six-day festival will be staged in March next year, accompanying the official re-opening of Rochdale Town Hall.

Whether it's a workshop, a pop-up, intervention, mural, digital installation, event, a performance, or an activity - festival organisers Rochdale Borough Council are encouraging you to think outside the box, consider collaborations and be creative. You could be a community group, artist, business, coop, S.T.E.A.M (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) collective, sports group, tech start-up, or another organisation with a great idea.

Between five and eight ideas will then be chosen for the ‘Everyday Innovation’ programme part of the event, delivered in partnership with The Culture Co-op, Rochdale borough’s Creative People and Places Programme, funded by Arts Council England.

Rochdale Borough Festival of Ideas runs from Monday 4 to Saturday 9 March, promising a showcase of creativity, innovation, and performance around the themes of imagine, create, discover.

Councillor Janet Emsley, the council’s cabinet member for equity, safety, and reform, said they are interested in hearing about all kinds of ideas, big and small from across the borough. She said: “This new festival will provide a platform for curious minds to explore, so we’re looking for ideas which would enhance people's day, or even transform a public space. If you think your Idea fits the bill, we'd love to hear from you and can provide the funding to make it happen. Whether it’s a cul-de-sac you want to close and transform for the day, a specific bus route you want to create a piece of traveling artwork for; or a grey wall you walk past every day; a reservoir or canal you have a vision for, whatever it is, get in touch.”

The line-up will be announced in the new year but expect visual arts, music, electrifying live performances, thought-provoking talks, interactive installations, and lots more, as originality and imagination is celebrated. Taking inspiration from the borough's rich heritage whilst remaining future focused, there will be a blend of hands-on and digital programming and many events will be free to attend. The festival will provide a platform for curious minds to explore and discover, with a family programme running throughout.

To find out more and how to apply or arrange an informal chat visit

The ideas chosen to receive support will be revealed in January.

The re-launched Rochdale Town Hall will be one of a host of festival venues across the borough. Its major restoration has been funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Rochdale Borough Council.


Saturday 23 December

Middleton Band presents Christmas with the Houghton Weavers for an evening of folk and festivities.

Tickets available from the link below or by calling 0161 375 1876.

Adults £12, Concessions £10

Doors 7pm, entertainment from 7.30pm

St Michael's Church, Townley Street, Middleton M24 1BT

Sunday 24 December

Carols Around the Band Stand

Join Friends of Hare Hill Park for some Christmas Carols with Littleborough Brass Band on Christmas Eve.

Phone Simon France 07931 992393

5pm - 6pm

Hare Hill Park, Hare Hill Road, Littleborough OL15 9HE

Until Thursday 28 December

Christmas Pantomime: Snow White

Trio Entertainment return to Heywood for the fairest Panto in the land – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs!

Starring Coronation Street star Steve Arnold as Muddles and television star Basil Brush as the virtual voice and image of the Magic Mirror!

Mirror, Mirror on the wall, which is the most spectacular pantomime of all? Join Snow White in her fairytale adventure of a lifetime. Will Prince Ritchie rescue his beloved Snow White from the Wicked Queen’s evil spells? Will the horrible Henchman complete his perilous task upon the Princess? Will the Seven Dwarfs get to the poisoned apple before Snow White?

*Suitable for all ages

Various show times at 11am, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm and 6.30pm on different days.

To book your tickets, and for a full list of show dates and times, please visit the link below.

Tickets from £9.50

Phone: Heywood Sports Village 01706 924000

Heywood Sports Village, W Starkey Street, Heywood OL10 4TW

Until Friday 29 December

Jack and the Beanstalk – Middleton's Christmas Pantomime

This Christmas, you’re invited to a pantomime full of Fe, Fi, Fo & Fun!

Join our hero Jack, his mother Dame Trott & his brother Silly Billy as they try to defeat the evil Fleshcreep and his master the Giant who lives in the great castle in the sky. Jack dreams of marrying Princess Jill, he hopes that if he saves the village his dreams may just come true. With help from The Fairy and some magic beans anything is possible…

Don’t miss this year’s spectacular pantomime featuring a superb cast, beautiful scenery, colourful costumes, amazing special effects, and lots and lots of laughs!

Suitable For All Ages

To book your tickets please visit the link below or call the Box Office on 0300 303 8633.

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

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

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