THE DEN IN LEIGH- A festival of theatre, family fun, workshops and events

5 – 14 August

Leigh Spinners Mill

The Royal Exchange will be operating a mobile ‘Pay What You Decide’ box office from the Market Hall in Leigh Town Centre. Full details of all the events, dates and times for the mobile box office and any other information can be found here

The award-winning Royal Exchange Theatre takes up residency in Leigh this August as THE DEN, the Exchange’s mobile theatre, arrives at Leigh Spinners Mill for a festival of performances, community productions, workshops and family events. Programmed in collaboration with the Local Exchange Leigh Ambassador team the festival includes something for everyone, from a world-premiere by local playwright Kieran Knowles to BLOODY ELLE – THE GIG a reimagined version of this hit show, fresh from its run at the Theatre. The festival also includes workshops, events and some magical, interactive family theatre from immersive company KIT Theatre. Free or pay-what-you-decide THE DEN IN LEIGH runs from 5 – 14 August and residents of the Leigh area can grab their tickets from mobile ticket sites in the Market Hall in Leigh Town Centre starting on 22 July.

THE DEN is a major part of the theatre’s umbrella project LOCAL EXCHANGE which, supported by the Oglesby Charitable Trust, is a network of three-year creative residencies in boroughs across Greater Manchester. THE DEN IN LEIGH marks the mid-way point of the residency in Leigh and is a celebration of the work developed and created by the Ambassador Team and the Theatre. Opening on Thursday 5 August the festival kicks off with KIT Theatre’s family adventure in the Mill, the Leigh Ambassadors will then officially open the Den with a special event inviting family, friends, local participants and guests to join them at an award ceremony for LocalTALE playwriting competition winners and the first screening of their film MAKING STEADY PROGRESS that celebrates the Leigh area. The full festival kicks-off on 6 August when the doors to the Den are thrown open to the public.

Royal Exchange Joint Artistic Director Bryony Shanahan said,

‘The Den is an amazing theatre. Apart from being beautiful and brilliantly innovative in its design, it is a space that amplifies a collective and shared experience which is perhaps more important now than ever before. It really does bring people together, we experienced that when it was in Stalybridge in 2019, we found that there was something incredible about a new theatre popping up just around the corner from your home, or where you work or the local school. The energy was electric. Two years later we get to open it again, this time with the people of Leigh, the help of Spinners Mill and with a programme curated by the brilliant Ambassadors – it is very exciting. The Den, however, is only one part of a much bigger project, and we’ve been working with the Leigh Ambassador team for the past two years not only to program THE DEN IN LEIGH festival, but on a host of other creative projects like playwriting competitions, films, podcasts, writing workshops, training opportunities and much more. We are so excited to build the Den in Leigh, at Spinners Mill and cannot wait to see what people think of it!’

Leigh Ambassador Elizabeth Costello added…

‘To have ‘The Den’ in Leigh is really exciting for everyone. The Royal Exchange are bringing to Leigh a wonderful programme of events that’s accessible and inclusive for everyone to be a part of and enjoy. It’s so important to a town like Leigh that we have the best in art and culture that will engage new audiences and inspire young people. I’m looking forward to trying something new, sitting in the audience and experiencing the best theatre right here in our town.’


The festival includes LocalTALE.

The 2020 and 2021 winners of LocalTALE, the Leigh Ambassadors playwriting competition will have their premiers across two evenings in The Den. These short performances include GREEN LEAVES by Mary Berry, DREAMS FOR OUR DAUGHTERS by Pegeen Murphy, BATTERY LOW by Alison Ormrod and HOPE IS A FLOWER by Amy Drake, all directed by Maria Zemlinskaya. Local director Gitika Buttoo will then direct THE TREE FROM YOU OR ME by Charlotte Kirton, 25 & OVER by Sarah Teale and ON THE STREETS OF COVID by Tom Stocks.

We were bowled over by the submissions to the competition and excited to read such a broad range of responses. The seven winners whose plays opened up new worlds, made us see the world in new ways and showed the power of human connection. As things begin to reopen and we hope to soon welcome audiences back into theatres, the power of imagination and human relationships is more important than ever and we look forward to sharing these stories with you.

The winners will all received support with the development of their plays from the Exchange’s award-winning dramaturg Suzanne Bell who has worked with writers including Anna Jordan (whose theatre credits include the Bruntwood Prize winning YEN and MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN for the Exchange and her television work includes SUCCESSION (HBO) and KILLING EVE (BBC)


LocalTale winners

Mary Berry is a lover of drama, theatre, film and all aspects of creative writing. She leads a weekly community writing group in the local library – Tyldesley Creative Writers. A friend told her that she’d noticed the use of dialogue in her writing and suggested she should consider exploring the art of playwriting more fully. She said on winning: “I am absolutely thrilled to be one of the four winners of the LocalTALE competition. I very rarely enter my work for competitions but wanted to enter this local competition to support the outreach work of the Royal Exchange – a theatre that I go to quite regularly to see fantastic performances of great plays. To be a part of their project at the local Spinners Mill is such a fantastic opportunity to learn how to show off my play to the public. I am very grateful. My play, Green Leaves, tells the story of an elderly woman’s journey towards coming to terms with bereavement.”

Charlotte Kirton is the under 26 winner and at just 14 years old was one of the youngest to enter the competition. Her play THE TREE FROM YOU OR ME follows the story of brother and sister Lyra and Calvin after the loss of their family. It explores the importance of remembering, loss and how life goes on. She said: “When I first found out that I won, I have to admit I did cry a little. When a lifelong dream actually comes true you have to take a step back a bit. I’m so thankful for this amazing opportunity and the recognition that one of my crazy ideas is getting!”

Pegeen Murphy is a writer and actor from Bolton. However, her connection with theatre started in Leigh, as her parents were both founder members of the radical company Pit Prop Theatre. After having three children, and developing a career in social work, Pegeen has returned to theatre making in the past few years, writing, performing in, and directing various pieces in theatres around the North West. On learning that her play was one of the four winning scripts she said: “I’m over the moon to find I’m one of the winners of LocalTale, it cheered me right up!” Her play DREAMS FOR OUR DAUGHTERS is about female relationships, adoption and motherhood.

Alison Ormrod had been writing as a hobby for some time but only recently turned her attention to writing scripts. She was inspired by the competition and eager to get involved especially as it gave her the opportunity to see theatre in the local area. She said of winning: “I found the theatre’s online resources really useful and the writing workshop with Suzanne Bell left me feeling empowered and encouraged. I was surprised but delighted to learn that my play had been chosen as one of the four winners. I really appreciate that judging still took place during these strange and difficult times. My play, BATTERY LOW was intended to raise questions about loneliness and the increasing normality on our reliance on virtual company. This seems so much more poignant now as so many of us are experiencing both during lockdown.”

Amy Drake’s winning entry is HOPE IS A FLOWER and explores the interconnected lives of two women. Set over a year, two women keep crossing paths, trying to connect – with each other and the changing world around them. Amy said… “I’m chuffed to be back on home turf, sharing stories about Leigh, in Leigh!” Born in Leigh, Amy is an actor and writer, who graduated the inaugural year of ALRA North, a drama school in Wigan. Acting work includes various regional theatres, national stage tours and an upcoming TV appearance on Alma’s Not Normal (BBC). Her writing recently received a commendation for Screenshot’s Writer-Performer Award (South of the River & SISTER) and she was long-listed for the BBC Alfred Bradley Bursary 2021.

ON THE STREETS OF COVID is Tom Stock’s winning entry, it explores the dramatic rise of homelessness that occurred during the pandemic and what happens when during a family quiz night on Zoom a heavily pregnant Emily gets interrupted by a visitor at her door. Tom is an actor, writer, producer and poet. He is the writer of award-nominated show Netflix and Chill. Recently Tom has become a poet, having his work featuring on BBC Radio. He’s also the founder of Actor Awareness which fights for equality, diversity, and working-class talent in the arts.

Tom said “I am absolutely over the moon about winning. I never thought that after just scraping a C at GCSE level I would ever be the winner of a writing competition by The Royal Exchange. I grew up attending the Exchange so to now be part of their programme is just a dream come true.”

Sarah Teale’s entry is 25 & OVER and tells the stories of Ruby and Carol. Ruby has just turned 25. She won’t be going outside for 18 months. She has a pandemic to avoid. Carole has just turned 25. She won’t be going outside for 18 years. She has a daughter to bring up. 2 stories told over 15 minutes or 25 years, this short play asks how old is too old? How young is too young? And is 25 actually too late to start a successful pop career?

Sarah Said “I honestly can’t thank the Royal Exchange enough for this opportunity! It means so much to be part of a theatre festival celebrating the town where I grew up, and I can’t wait to see the rest of the plays!” Sarah is a writer physically based in London but emotionally based in Tyldesley / Manchester (where she grew up and studied). She has had work performed at Southwark Playhouse, Theatre503, and the Central School of Speech and Drama, and produces work in Manchester as part of No Door Theatre.

Published on:
28 Jul 2021


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