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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA


 previews, reviews, interviews, and recommendations with Steve Cooke


Animal Farm – Octagon Bolton

Review by Hilary Dawes

Skilfully adapted for the stage by Ian Wooldridge and directed by Iqbal Kahn, this powerful re-telling of George Orwell’s chilling and timeless classic is brought vividly to life in this gripping new production and carries a theme as relevant today as when the novel was first published almost 80 years ago.

When the downtrodden animals of Manor Farm overthrow their master, they imagine it is the beginning of a new life of freedom and equality.  However, over time, a cunning and brutal elite develops amongst them, instigated by the pigs Napoleon and Snowball, who gradually take control.  Soon, as the farmyard hierarchy develops, the other animals discover that they are not all as equal as they once thought.

An incredibly talented and strong cast brought the farmyard characters convincingly to life, with realistic and believable animal movements and sounds.  Polly Lister gave a superlative performance as Old Major, as she rallied the animals to revolt against their master, and later with her moving portrayal of the old horse Clover, often suspecting the pigs of violating one or other of their own rules, but afraid to express her concerns. 

Gentle carthorse Boxer was touchingly played by Sam Black, and we felt for the animal, with his constant maxim “I must work harder”.  The vain and coquettish pony Mollie was played to perfection by Amy Drake who also relished her role as tame raven Moses.  Ida Regan gave an excellent performance, playing Napoleon with a quietly calculating and menacing air, and her propagandist Squealer was brilliantly performed by Killian Macardle, managing to engage the audience with comedic asides and knowing looks.   Snowball was played by Samater Ahmed who also gave a fine portrayal of Benjamin, the old donkey refusing to feel inspired by the Rebellion.

Praise must go to the creative team who worked their magic in this atmospheric and engrossing production.  Lighting and set designer Ciarán Bagnall created a minimal, yet effective set, evoking the feel of the farmyard, with revolving panels serving as barn walls, allowing the characters to easily enter and leave the stage, and simple planks eventually evolving into windmill sails.  Composer Dylan Towley and Sound Designer Gerry Marsden created a realistic and evocative soundscape, whilst the authentic animal movements were choreographed by movement director Shelley Evan Haden, and their characters instantly recognisable by simple headdresses, devised by costume designer Su Newell.


The Fête of Britain

Review by Steve Cooke

The Fête of Britain was a four-day celebration of collaboration and imagination in the face of the great challenges of our time. Another innovative, challenging event from the team at Factory International.

How can we face up to the challenges of the twenty-first century? How do we make the world safer, fairer, and better for those we love and the place we call home?

From the climate crisis to the cost of living, nothing was off the table at The Fête of Britain.

The takeover at Aviva Studios was programmed by Hard Art – a movement of artists, musicians and others in the creative and cultural worlds including Brian Eno and Es Devlin, whoteamed up to create a new culture of participation and positive change.

The programme brought together a mix of artists, performers and community groups and features contributions from artists Cornelia Parker, Human Atlas and Jeremy Deller, and journalist and presenter Jon Ronson. Music comes from Commoners Choir, hip hop star Louis VI and a night curated by LOWD Sound System. There’ll also was events from Empathy Museum, Starting Point Stockport and Salford Involve.

Attendees could have a cuppa in the public living room, help to write an alternative national anthem or learn about Manchester’s radical history. Workshops and discussions delved into key issues facing Manchester and the UK – encouraging us all to talk, take part and find our way out of tough spots together. Like any fête worth its salt, there was plenty of fun to be had too. Games to play, problems to solve and stories to share – all under the theme of ‘Come Together’.

23 FEB - A provocative comedy night looked at the multi-faceted nightmare that is the modern world

Drawing from his book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and two seasons of his BBC podcast Things Fell Apart, journalist and broadcaster Jon Ronson shared funny, startling human stories about the origins of the cultural conflicts that tear us apart today – and offered ideas for how we might repair the damage.

Jon was followed by a top comedy line-up with Rosie Holt, Desiree Burch, Stuart Goldsmith, and Jonathan Pie.


LOWD brought their revolutionary sound system to the South Warehouse for a huge free show – featuring Chimpo, Jenna G, Chunky and J. Chambers.

LOWD (Love Overcomes World Destruction) Sound System took over the South Warehouse with their debut show, mixing heavyweight sounds with incredible visuals – all while championing social and ecological causes.

There was a Manchester legends set from Chimpo ft Jenna G and Chunky. World-class Manc rapper J. Chambers & The Redemption Sound both performed live, as well as the multi-talented MC, producer, and singer-songwriter Renee Stormz. From London, special guest Louis VI was also live. The incredible OneDa presents the HERchester Cypher – a collective of female rappers based in Manchester freestyling together. VJ Matt Black (Coldcut) provided visuals throughout the night, which was compered by hosts Lionbeat and HAM. And with LOWD residents DJ Snuff and D'Vo – the bass culture and ama sounds are on lock.

LOWD (Love Overcomes World Destruction) is a state-of -the-art sound system built by renowned free party crew Innerfield. LOWD platforms cultural resistance, bringing in-house selectors and local communities together through bass culture.

New heritage trail set to celebrate Middleton’s rich history

Preview by Steve Cooke

A brand-new Middleton heritage trail is being created and the team behind it are asking local residents and history enthusiasts to get involved.

The trail is being put together to celebrate the rich history of the area and people found out more at two drop in events that took place at Middleton library, Long Street, on Saturday (17 February) 1pm and Wednesday (21 February).

Spearheaded by the council, with support from Historic England, the council’s Middleton’s Township Committee and The UK Shared Prosperity Fund, the proposed trail will highlight 36 historic buildings in central Middleton. These include Alkrington Hall, the Old Grammar School, The Memorial Gardens and St Leonard’s Church, as well as the Methodist Church and Olde Boars Head in Long Street. The proposed trail also includes buildings designed by the late Middleton born architect, Edgar Wood, which were recently restored by the council as part of the Historic England supported Townscape Heritage Initiative.

The team are keen to speak to local residents to find out what they think of the sites proposed and the route, as well as hear their stories about Middleton’s history.

Councillor June West, Chair of the Middleton Township, said: “Middleton has a rich and proud history, and we want to really bring this out and celebrate this unique area. Anyone who is interested should come along to these fantastic events. From heritage experts to beginners and people who are just passionate about Middleton, everyone is welcome.”

The creation of the trail is part of a wider masterplan to further regenerate Middleton. Other proposals in the masterplan include improvements to the highways network and public realm, the development of the area between Eastway and Wood Street, with potential for additional housing and commercial uses, and unlocking key brownfield sites, like Warwick Mill.



Preview by Steve Cooke

The Manchester Song Festival - which returns to the Stoller Hall from Friday 1 - Sunday 3 March 2024 – have announced a full list of participatory workshops on offer for the Saturday during the Festival. From vocal health to voice anxiety, song writing to musical theatre and even voice coaching in Opera – there is a workshop for all interests and levels of experiences running from 10am right through into the evening. Each workshop is led by a vocal expert in their field and participants can purchase a day ticket to sign up for as many as they wish on the day. Novices, singing enthusiasts and even exclusive shower singers are all welcome!

Full line up of participatory workshops below – under 18s can participate with an accompanying adult.

10am – 11am Yoga

Get prepared for a day of singing and learn how yoga can help you in your singing with Yoga practitioner Bethany Moran. As an instrumentalist and classical singer, Beth was drawn to yoga in 2012 as a practice to support her creative pursuits and performance anxiety. Helping to build up a relationship with her body and breathe to further support her vocal health and mental health. Beth currently teaches singing and yoga, integrating the two, finding parallels between breath, posture, mindset, confidence, creativity, and freedom in Self.

11am – 4pm – Song writing Workshop

Manchester-based Singer-songwriter Liam Frost will take you through the start-to-finish process of writing your own songs for your own voice. Participants are encouraged to bring along examples of their work for guidance on the day. Liam Frost is a solo artist from North Manchester who writes and performs folk pop. Frost began his musical career at the age of 15, performing at the Akoustik Anarkhy nights at The Star and Garter. He began by experimenting with punk bands before moving towards a folk direction and going solo in 2003 at the age of 20. Frost has often been referred to as a troubadour and was described as “the UK’s answer to Bright Eyes” by Elbow’s Guy Garvey. He has also performed several times at The Stoller Hall, as a special guest with Badly Drawn Boy in 2023 and Thea Gilmore in 2024.

11.30am – 12.30pm – Vocal Health

Hearing Impaired alt-rock singer-songwriter, vocal teacher, voice, and hearing sciences researcher and BAPAM (British Association for Performing Arts Medicine) approved vocal rehabilitation coach Carrie Simone Birmingham will be teaching more about how to take care of your voice while singing. This workshop will include an overview of how your voice works, vocal health tips and practical exercises.

2-3pm   Acting Through Song

Actor, singer, and music director Jonathan Ainscough offers a fantastic opportunity to explore how we can communicate character intention and story when we sing. Participants are encouraged to bring a song along from any genre of music or theatre for Jonathan’s direct input and guidance on how to perform it at its best.

3.30pm – 4.30pm – Introduction to Musical Theatre

Following his Acting through Song workshop, Jonathan will turn his attention to the basics of musical theatre singing styles and performance tips in the second of his three Song Festival Workshops. A seasoned music professional, Jonathan studied Music at Manchester University, before completing a Masters in Performance at the Royal Northern College of Music. He has worked for the Royal Opera House, Welsh National Opera, Opera North, the Royal Exchange Theatre, and the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and also works for the award-winning charity Streetwise Opera, leading music and drama workshops with people experiencing homelessness.

Jonathan will conclude his Workshop opportunities with an Opera workshop at 6pm – taking participants through the basics of operatic singing and performance styles.

4pm – Vocal Anxiety and performance

Vocal coach, teacher and Performing Arts Medicine Advisor Line Hilton will talk about common issues of vocal anxiety and techniques to overcome it. Line trained as a general nurse, and clinical hypnotherapist, has a BMus Ed degree from the prestigious Western Australian Conservatorium of Music (WAAPA) and an MSc in Performing Arts Medicine from University College London (UCL). Line has had a great deal of success with a functional approach to vocal technique that helps singers overcome vocal issues such as poor pitch control, lack of strength, limited vocal stamina, register transition difficulties and limited range. With her deep understanding of the vocal mechanism, she is able to help a singer gain ease of control over their voice without losing their vocal identity.

5pm – 6.30pm – ‘A Synaesthete Sings’

Discover the fascinating world of synaesthesia in this world exclusive - through a multimedia recital by International mezzo-soprano Margaret McDonald. Accompanied by David Jones at the piano, with insight from Music Psychologist, Jane Ginsborg, and images created by Adrian Horn, they will all demonstrate Maggie’s fascinating world of synaesthesia, where music meets visuals in an extraordinary blend. For the first time ever, Maggie will give a public recital using new technology, to demonstrate her neuro- divergency of reading music, words, and numbers in colour, and seeing and feeling sounds in shapes and textures.

She will share her experiences and insights on how music and synaesthesia interact, and how it has enhanced her life. As well as singing with numerous choral societies nationwide, Maggie has sung on the operatic stage for Glyndebourne Festival and Touring Opera, ENO, Opera North, CBTO, Chelsea Opera Group, Scottish Opera and Scottish Opera Go Round.

5pm – 6pm Introduction to Folk

Welsh musician Awen Blandford leads an introduction on folk singing featuring a warm up round, learning a Welsh work song (with an explanation of Welsh pronunciation and lyrics) and a traditional English song, including work on harmonies and accompanying folk steps. A classically trained cellist, she honed her skills at the RNCM and has collaborated with a diverse array of artists and bands, spanning alternative rock to folk genres. Awen’s passion lies in playing traditional music from the British Isles and beyond, a commitment she extends to her teaching and Music Therapy endeavours, where she shares these influences with others. Awen will be leading Introduction to Folk at 5pm, as well as leading the Festival’s Terra Musica family performances on

Sunday 3 March.

6.30pm – 7.30pm – RNCM Songsters

Concluding this eclectic and exciting day of workshops is the RNCM’s specialist group for art song - The Songsters. They will welcome in the evening with a live performance in the Stoller Hall’s atrium. Grab a drink from the bar and enjoy.  The RNCM Songsters are a specially selected group of students at the RNCM; singers and pianists who are passionate and excel in the performance of art song. The RNCM Songsters appears by kind permission of the RNCM.

Manchester Song Festival runs at the Stoller Hall from Friday 1 March to Sunday 3 March. Full details on all the live performances over the weekend - kicking off with Award-winning Jazz singer Cleveland Watkiss on the Friday night – can be found here:

Workshop Day bookings page for Saturday 2nd March can be found here:

Day Ticket for the Saturday Workshops - £22 Adults; £5.50 Students + Under 18S


Work it Out at HOME

Preview by Steve Cooke

Work it Out is a brand-new, compelling comedy drama written by and starring award-winning writer-performer Eve Steele (Scott & Bailey, All At Sea, Fat Friends, Coronation Street), directed by Sarah Frankcom (Betty! and Hamlet (Royal Exchange Theatre), The Breach (Hampstead Theatre)), and produced by HOME.

HOME invites you to step into a fitness class as we face our fears, conquer our inner demons, and form everlasting bonds in our brand-new production Work It Out, a sharply funny drama about everything but exercise.  

This moving story follows a community-based fitness class where a rag tag band of participants, all with their own issues, swallow their fear and step out of their comfort zones. Together, they work out their problems with music, exercise, and gallows humour. But amidst the sweat and camaraderie there is a simmering mix of fragile egos and impulsive behaviour that threatens to boil over at any moment.  

Director Sarah Frankcom comments “I loved the world and characters of Work It Out from the moment I first read it. The play explores the roller coaster journey of recovery and celebrates the courage it takes to make personal change whilst being part of a group. I can’t wait to share it with audiences.” 

Work It Out weaves a bittersweet tale of triumph, friendship, and conquering inner demons.

 Fri 1 March – Sat 16 March




Sunday 25 February 2024

Alkrington Village Craft Market

Pop along and support your local small businesses and community.

With over 30 stalls we have a fantastic range of brilliant crafters selling their handmade and unique crafts not available on the high street.

Hot food and refreshments available.

We have free customer parking outside Alkrington Community Centre, plus additional parking outside Tesco Mainway Alkrington.


Phone: Lee Yates 07807 457 703

11am - 4pm

Alkrington Community Centre, Hardfield Road, Alkrington, Middleton M24 1TQ


Tuesday 27 February 202

National Theatre Live – Vanya

Adapted by Simon Stephens, after Anton Chekhov

Directed by Sam Yates

Designed by Rosanna Viz

Andrew Scott (Fleabag) brings multiple characters to life in Simon Stephens’ (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) radical new version of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya.

Hopes, dreams, and regrets are thrust into sharp focus in this one-man adaptation which explores the complexities of human emotions.

Filmed live during its sold-out run in London’s West End, Vanya will be playing exclusively in cinemas in 2024.

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

Tickets from £10


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


Tuesday 27 February 2024

Rochdale & District Camera Club

Tonight is practical. Oil & water/light painting. Mounting prints.

We meet every Tuesday at 8pm at Syke Methodist Church Hall.

You are more than welcome to come down to one of our club nights to see if you would enjoy joining the club.

Visit the link below for the 2023 syllabus.

Phone: Pete Williams 07967 969136


Syke Methodist Church Hall, Syke Road, Rochdale OL12 9TF


Wednesday 28 February 2024

Toad Lane Concerts - Rochdale's Weekly Music at Lunchtime

This week we have Eccles Community Choir MD Angela Rowley acc John Stott.

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

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



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