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Back with a Bang! Refract festival returns to Sale this Summer

Those who have already discovered this award-winning arts festival will be thrilled to hear that Refract is back for its third edition in and around Sale, this July.

Those who haven’t yet discovered Refract – you’re in for a treat.

Running from Thursday 18 July to Saturday 27 July, this unconventional 10 day festival, curated by Waterside Arts, promises the best in live comedy, music, dance, experiential performance and theatre, with something for everyone.

Highlights at Refract:19 include:

  • Japanese rope art from Lumo Theatre in Wiredo

  • A preview of one-man show First Time, as Nathaniel Hall drops in on the way to Edinburgh Fringe (ironically, the second time Nathaniel has brought his show to Sale – read my preview here)

 And, of course, so so much more…


To celebrate the return of this wonderfully different and exciting festival to our very own Greater Manchester, I’m running a competition to win a pair of tickets to see Frisky and Mannish in their Poplab – bringing their wildly popular brand of musical infotainment right from BBC Radio 1, BBC2, BBC3 and ITV3, straight to the streets of Sale (well not strictly the streets – just one – Waterside Plaza.

With two pairs up for grabs, for your chance to to see the Pop PhDs themselves on Saturday 20 July, click the link below and follow the instructions (oh it’s nothing sinister, I promise):

The great Refract:19 giveaway!

Entries close Sunday 7 July and winners will be selected at random.

For the full rundown,dates, tickets and to essentially plan your cultural journey into all that is right in the wonderful world of artistic endeavour, visit the Waterside Arts Refract:19 website now.

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Crowd-Funder to help take solo show First Time to Edinburgh Fringe

Manchester theatre company, Dibby Theatre, is raising funds to help take their hit show First Time to Edinburgh Fringe.

A funny and frank autobiographical solo-show, First Time is written and performed by theatre-maker and HIV activist, Nathaniel Hall.

Credit: Lee Baxter

Diagnosed just two weeks after his 17th birthday and only months after coming out as gay to his family, Nathaniel kept his HIV status from almost all for over 14 years.

In late 2017, Nathaniel ‘came out again’, as it were, and is now advocating for better contemporary representation of HIV in popular culture. The show is a vehicle to break down HIV stigma and contribute to the UNAIDS aim of ending HIV within a generation.

Nathaniel says,

HIV healthcare and prevention has changed, but people’s attitudes to the disease often lag behind fear and stigma are very much alive and well. We now know people with HIV who are on effective medication CANNOT transmit the virus to their sexual partners.

And you can even take medication after you think you’ve been put at risk, or even pre-emptively to protect yourself and partners. This news, along with the condom and ‘get tested’ messages are the tools we can all now use to help stop HIV for good.

First Time premiered to critical acclaim last World AIDS Day at Waterside Arts in Sale and will preview there again at Refract Festival on 25 July before heading to Edinburgh Fringe.

Now Nathaniel wants to take his message even further, and all the way to Edinburgh Fringe.

Therefore, Dibby Theatre have launched their crowd funding campaign, and need to raise £6000, to help their hit-show become an even greater success in Scotland.

The crowd-funder is supported by former Ceremonial Lord Mayor, Carl Austin-Behan, who was the first openly gay Mayor to hold office in the U.K. urging Mancunians to support the show by donating,

Manchester has a proud history of HIV activism. One of the country’s largest and oldest HIV support charities, George House Trust, was started as Manchester AIDS Line by Mancunians in 1985, and we’re now a ‘HIV Fast Track City’ and have committed to work in partnership across the city region with the goal of ending all new transmissions by 2030.

Chris Hoyle, Artistic Director of Dibby Theatre, adds:

Ending HIV is everyone’s responsibility and we’re proud to be spreadheading the fight against the disease with First Time, and proud to be showcasing to the world that Manchester is a city that works together to get things done.

The crowd funding campaign is live until 24 June 2019 and you can donate by visiting:

For more information on U=U, PrEP and how to get tested for HIV visit:

First Time at Refract Festival, Waterside Arts, Sale – 25 July –

First Time at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Cairns Lecture Theatre – from 31 July –

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Review: Aida at the Bridgewater Hall

Verdi’s Aida is admittedly one of the operas I knew little about, in terms of both narrative and its musical score.

An opera in four acts, Aida is set in Egypt at the time of the Pharoahs. The priesthood, through its self-proclaimed ability to interpret the gods’ will, controls the government and have long been at war with Ethiopia, many Ethiopians becoming enslaved.

Amneris (Alessandra Volpe) is the daughter of the reigning Egyptian King (Michael Druiett), who is in love with Radames (Rafael Rojas), a captain in the Egyptian military, the expectation being that they will marry. There is only one problem; Radames is secretly in love with Aida (Alexandra Zabala), a slave of the Egyptians but significantly, the daughter of the Ethiopian King (Eric Greene). Radames’s love is requited yet smothered. Until it isn’t.

Opera North have a fine back-catalogue, if you will, of productions, but this was a little different to those operas I have seen before.

I don’t say it was unusual per se, but a first for me, and a very pleasant first.

In the beautiful surroundings of the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, the orchestra takes position on the stage, rather than ‘banished’ to the lower level of the pit. Whereas I’m always happy to sit in the circle at such affairs as I love to watch the musicians, on this occasion my position from the stalls was just fine, as the wonderful orchestra, conducted by Sir Richard Armstrong, shared literal centre stage with the singers.

Concert staging, to use the correct term.

Without a set to distract, the cast took their places at the front of the stage as and when the story demanded it. Dressed in simple, modern clothing, the production laid bare only the musical and vocal talent. And what a talent it was.

There was nowhere for the performers to hide and how fortunate it was for myself and fellow theatre-goers that this was the case.

Sung in Italian, with English subtitles, the emotion and passion in the orchestral movements were matched by the beautiful and pitch-perfect vocals.

Indeed in the choir seats, (yes, I know the clue is in the description) it wasn’t clear whether the casually dressed, ‘civvy-clothed’ ensemble of people sat up there were fellow audience members or not (my only clue was the choreographed synchronicity with which they sat down – no messing about with coats and bags for them). My confusion was definitively cleared up when they burst into rapturous harmony and song, the acoustics in the great hall never more tested, never more giving.

Each performer was as charismatic as the last. I was drawn to Alessandra Volpe’s Amneris, the performance and characterisation playful, seductive and powerful until the realisation that her love is gone – her demeanour crumbling before your eyes.

Whilst Alexandra’s Zabala’s Aida is touching, sympathetic and moving in both character and tender performance, your empathy lies with both women –  each vulnerable. Indeed, they are no winners  in this narrative, right down to the very last haunting scene.

Murmurings around me in the interval demonstrated that I was not the only person moved by this wonderful production, and indeed, was a clue to what was to come at ‘final curtain’, with a lengthy, rapturous standing ovation and applause.

Indeed, at the Italian premiere of Aida at La Scala in 1872, the opera was a great success with the public and it seems that in its latest iteration nothing much has changed.

Part of a 12 night tour, Opera North’s Aida can be caught at Hull City Hall on Friday 7 June and finishes at Birmingham Symphony Hall on Tuesday 11 June.

And do, indeed  catch it if you can.

Opera North – Aida


Photo credits: Clive Bards (2-7)

The Author (1 and 8)