Monday, 16 May 2016

ThEATre at The Whitaker

The most memorable meal in theatre? Where eating is all part of the act…
Wednesday 25th May 2016
7.00 pm
Meal and Theatre £25 (early booking is highly recommended)
Whitaker Park, Haslingden Rd, Rawtenstall, Rossendale BB4 6RE

Prepare yourself for a unique evening of immersive theatre at Rossendale’s museum and gallery, The Whitaker.

‘ThEatre’ is set to be a show where food and theatre come together, literally; dine away whilst the drama unfolds around you. It’s a brand new work from writer and Actor Neil Bell: known for his work in shows like ‘The Bubbler’ as well as programmes like ‘Peaky Blinders’ and ‘Downton Abbey’. He’s written and performed around the Manchester area for more than 20 years too.

This certainly will be a meal like no other – turning the audience into participants for a piece of cultural and culinary art. Expect incredible acting, gripping drama, and thanks to The Whitaker’s talented chef: some stunning food too.

The intimate settings of The Whitaker suggest that this will be a close, personal and powerful experience. Your usual restaurant seating becomes a stage, your cutlery crucial, your plate part of the performance.

So if you want a dinner thriller, action with your appetizer, mystery with your main and drama with dessert: then don’t shy away!

Just in case you need anything else to work up an appetite for this unique event (I am already too tempted!) why not take some theatre food for thought…

Some of the most memorable meals in theatre

·         The chaos of cucumber sandwiches – The Importance of Being Earnest – Wilde’s iconic play
contains a number of instances of food and eating: with ‘cucumber sandwiches’ right at the beginning
Algernon.  Oh! there is no use speculating on that subject.  Divorces are made in Heaven—[Jack puts out his hand to take a sandwich.  Algernon at once interferes.]  Please don’t touch the cucumber sandwiches.  They are ordered specially for Aunt Augusta.  [Takes one and eats it.]
It is this brief exchange alone between the young male friends which shows food as a symbol of sensuality; provoking touch – as well as double-standards.

·         A badly-seasoned casserole – The Crucible – the tension in the marriage between John Proctor and his wife Elizabeth is evocatively revealed by a rabbit casserole, which ‘hurt her heart’ to prepare. This feature in Arthur Miller’s dramatic play,  not only suggests Elizabeth’s selflessness: she  is willing to go through pains to please her husband – but also foreshadows the dangers of lying within marriage (both conceptually and physically, concerning John’s adultery.) In his single symbolic gesture John lies to Elizabeth ‘it’s well seasoned’, though adding salt himself – and in that, emphasizes a marriage unpicked by mistruths, turning what is potentially nurturing, into something nasty.

·         Sampling sweet things– A Doll’s House -   In the first scene of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play ‘A Doll’s House’, we meet Nora, a mother of three who is married to Torvald Helmer: a condescending, cruel figure who frequently trivialises her. His patterns of trivialisation and control are often characterised through food – for example his  addressing of Nora in the third person in relation to macaroons:
Helmer. Hasn't she paid a visit to the confectioner's?
Nora. No, I assure you, Torvald—
Helmer. Not been nibbling sweets?
Nora. No, certainly not.
Helmer. Not even taken a bite at a macaroon or two?
Macaroons are banned according to Helmer, and here we gain a perspective on how a sweet little
symbol an actually be the source of such angst: perhaps like Nora herself,

·         Strawberries in Shakespeare – Richard III – The Earl of Gloucester is particularly partial to the ripe red fruits it seems, as he reflects ‘When I was left in Holborn, I saw good strawberries in your garden there. I do beseech you send for some of them.” Pass the cream.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Ordsall Hall: A Poem

An old mind surrounded by new method

Hidden from the Irwell, my eyes a stinging pink
In November sun, Ordsall still slept
Stonework bordered by council brick.

Twenty-something miles from home
My hands a white against window panes
What is it about places of the past
Which turns the mind’s child from its restraints?

The Great Hall seemed bigger than before
Where a public slipped into the past
And looked in wonder at lights, the table set
Moving like dolls within a wooden house

The thrill of sight, of touch, enough again
No screen to show excitement in the blood
As we guide the tourism of childhood steps

Through the politics of growing old. 

Friday, 6 May 2016

The Whitaker and why you should go - a poem


Have you heard the word about the Whitaker?
A museum and gallery in Rawtenstall
From natural history, to intrigue and mystery
This place really does have it all.

There’s artistic inspiration if you need it
With a number of exhibitions
It is a great gallery, within our own valley
And getting here isn’t a mission!

We can tempt you with some of our great food
That’s right, a museum with restaurant too
Even a place for lessons, spoken word sessions
Or just sit and soak up the view.

Built in 1840 it has a history you can unlock
Whether you like architecture, art, or both
We’ve been encouraging artistic students too
-         Even making gallery walls their home!

Why not then check out what it’s all about
With a shrunken head and elephant on display
Free at the door, open Weds-Sun ten till four
We look forward to you coming our way.             

The Manchester Writing Competition 2016 opens – in a city of literary opportunity

Manchester is home to one of the biggest Fiction and Poetry prizes; with £10,000 up for grabs. Ready to investigate why writing matters so much here is Emily Oldfield…

Oh Manchester, so much to answer for...

Manchester is a city known for its wordsmiths. The lyrics of Morrissey come close to poetry, as well as so many other musicians, and the city has been home to a number of authors including Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Burgess and Howard Jacobson. The Manchester writing Competition seems proof of the literary legacy of this place. With a prize of £10,000 for each category – The Fiction Prize and The Poetry Prize - it is one of the biggest celebrations of writing around.

Established by Carol Ann Duffy in 2008, this competition attracts entries from all over world, and encourages new writers. The writing can be as experimental and expressive as people want; something I believe Manchester upholds more than many other cities – writing that gets close and personal.

For example, poetry and prose enter the streets – literally. Have you ever seen the Lemn Sissay poem ‘Hardys Well’ on the side of the Wilmslow Road pub of the same name?  Plus the sheer number of ‘writing workshops’ and ‘spoken word’ events show how the written and spoken form is well alive here. I’ve already discovered poetry nights as wackily named as ‘Transdimensional Space Goats’ and the ‘Fuel Word Cup’. Commonword organises many similar events; and as one of the largest community writing and publishing organisations in the North West based here, upholds Manchester as a place where people can find ‘common’ ground through writing.

Because here writing has been used to portray the plight of the ‘common’ man – think of Friedrich Engels’ (with input from Karl Marx) work on ‘The Condition of The Working Class in England’ in Chetham’s Library, as just one example, back in 1845. Writing has been used as a social tool both historically and for humour – take John Cooper Clarke’s ‘Beasley Street’. He’s the self-proclaimed ‘Bard of Salford’ and performance poet with lines like ‘The Hipster and his hired hat/drive a borrowed car’; mocking inner-city culture in a meaningful way.

Poets and writers are capable of giving voice to the otherwise unspoken in society after all – they uncover the layers, and add so much to the discovery of the metropolis which is Manchester. This especially applies to poetry - as Dr David Cooper, senior English Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, reflects…

“'From Mrs Gaskell to Mike Garry, Manchester has long been perceived, represented and – crucially - reimagined by a diverse range of literary voices. Poetry (in particular) has played a prominent role in this multi-layered literary geography of the city. This seems to be particularly true right now as, every week, we learn of an imaginative new project, event or happening which celebrates poetry's potential to reconfigure our sense of what it means to be in the world.”

Poetry and creative writing has been standing out in a number of public ‘projects’ ; one of I Love Manchester’s recent stories showed how writer and performance poet Tony Walsh penned  a poem to
celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Alliance Manchester Business School.

Writing is part of the infrastructure of this place it seems, even at an institutional level. The chancellor of The University of Manchester is after all the outstanding performance poet and writer Lemn Sissay, whilst Carol Ann Duffy, the current Poet Laureate, is based at The Manchester Writing School – the host institution of the competition. In light of The Manchester Writing Competition, YOU can be next in terms of making sense of the city and connecting yourself to it, through writing. As David Cooper says:

“Clearly, we’re living through a period of great change in Manchester. For me, then, it’s more important than ever that we listen to what poets – ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world’, according to Shelley –   have to say about the places and spaces in which we live, work and play.”

It seems fitting then that there is separate Poetry Prize and then a Fiction Prize; though in previous years the competition has alternated between the two, rather than having them as stand-alone. That means even more opportunity to express yourself – thanks Manchester. Entries are possible by post and online.

For more information about the Manchester Writing Competition 2016, you can visit the website:

Monday, 2 May 2016

6am, Manchester Victoria

I arrive at 6 am, Manchester Victoria
The station floor a drumskin I tick time over
In high-heeled shoes.
The smell of sleep in my collar, the evening news
Turning itself in a corner
Catching the light
Like a dead bird fallen through open ceiling

A skull-piece, snapped off
Easing the mind
Of this generation. The electric billboard wavers
And I become anyone, the commuter too eager
The family visitor.
 I smell disinfectant, the damp tang
Of vinegar, captured in other people's glances
I am acceptably ‘waiting’
 For assigned destination.
It is assumed, that I know the direction
Watching the flow of bodies through the barrier
This is what it is to be human
Flesh capable of destroying marriages, lives, each other
Clutch glibly at railcards, each ticket number.
Here I am ‘waiting’, the persona well-applied
I want to feel that excitement again
To run through the ticket-gate, flush faced
The sudden adrenaline
Arched in a cry
Coming from childhood

The tracks are live.