In Haunt

Oldham Coliseum is a theatre with a fascinating history – established in 1885, its diverse past involves being dismantled and moved from its original site on Henshaw Street to where it now stands, becoming a music hall and cinema, and time served as theatre of course! It is one of just 32 regular producing theatres in the country, offering a venue as well as a community loved by so many… and now during these difficult times, it is turning to the public with a Crowdfunder to ‘Get Behind Us’, in order to support its future: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/get-behind-us 

Oldham Coliseum

The covid-19 pandemic and restrictions have meant that the Coliseum has been closed for over six months, with no ticket income – a harsh change to this usually buzzing hub of creativity; home to a popular annual pantomime, as well as a year-round programme of comedy, drama and music. As the pandemic continues, it is difficult to gauge the future security of theatres and performing arts, with even the usually packed Christmas season in doubt.

That is why collective support of Oldham Coliseum is crucial, people coming together to celebrate and help sustain not only a venue that offers so much to The Arts, but a place that is also a charity, regularly engages with the local community, offers training, and has provided a point of togetherness, for years. For example, a survey by The Audience Agency indicated that 95% of audiences thought that the Coliseum was good for Oldham’s image, whilst 63% said that they thought it enhances the sense of community in the town.

To lose Oldham Coliseum would be a tragedy, given its role in the locale as well as in arts and culture, for a huge 135 years. In turn, a range of famous faces connected to Oldham and the theatre itself have pledged their support for The Coliseum, which is aiming to raise £40,000 through the Crowdfunder, to secure it for the times ahead.

Image below: from 'Halloween Horror'. Photo credit: Shay Rowan 

By Shay Rowan

According to Comedian Dave Spikey:

 “I asked if I could get involved in the campaign because, whether you know it or not, Oldham Coliseum has played a massive role in my life. My first ever gig there very early in my comedy career… the memory of walking onto that stage in that beautiful auditorium to that sort of audience has always stayed with me.”

The Coliseum certainly is a place of many memories. It also has had many names and guises of its own over the years! It began life in 1885 with a slightly different title, ‘the Colosseum’, originally on Henshaw Street. However, it was only two years later that the Council wanted to use its location as a marketplace – now Tommyfield Market – and thus the theatre had to move! This process was carried out, with owner and builder Thomas Whittaker seeing that the entire wooden building was shifted plank by plank to a new site: where it now stands on Fairbottom Street. It then became an increasingly popular entertainment venue, bought by Peter Yates (of Yates’ Wine Lodge) in 1903, developing into a much-attended Music Hall also, attracting many icons of the day. Yet this glamour faded, and by the 1930s, after a short period serving as a cinema, it closed, with much of its interior removed and sold.

Below: From The musical 'Bread & Roses'. Photo credit: Joel Chester Fildes

By Joel Chester Fildes

The stripping of the theatre within meant that when it finally was given a fresh start in 1938, as Oldham Repertory Theatre, much of the space inside was even lacking floorboards… meaning that the auditorium actually had a floor of earth for a while! Therefore, even though the new direction of Douglas Emery was giving the place new energy, the nature of its old design and lack of fittings (especially as it was made almost entirely of wood and lacked conventional fire escapes), meant it could only function as a private members club.

Yet as Oldham Repertory Theatre, the venue did develop to attract wide-spread acclaim, with actors involved there over the years such as Jean Alexander, Pat Phoenix and William Roache going onto star on television and in other performances. Hence, the theatre has supported and shaped the creative careers of many… and became its current namesake in 1978: the Oldham Coliseum Theatre. It has gone on to work with many innovative artists and present a broad range of content, with features spanning from family-friendly shows, to dark dramas and even evenings of energetic comedy.

Below: from Charles Dicken's 'Hard Times'. Photo credit: Joel Chester Fildes

By Joel Chester Fildes

Actor, director and twice former Artistic Director Kenneth Alan Taylor added: “It [the Coliseum] is the jewel in the crown of Oldham and if it went it would be a tragedy. The heart of Oldham would be ripped out.”

Although the theatre has been closed from the 16 March this year due to the pandemic,  it is still determined to maintain its reputation for engaging and innovative performance. An example of this is how it is planning to welcome audiences back into the building on Friday 20 November - Saturday 21 November (tickets must be pre-booked) for a unique and immersive experience: a 360° virtual reality show titled PETRICHOR, combining live action and animation. Created by Manchester’s ThickSkin, this is set to be a powerful performance, which will go ahead with social distancing in place. This means a maximum capacity of 20 people per show, all sitting separately and each with a VR headset, made medical-grade safe prior to each use. In order for such cutting-edge work to continue at the theatre, and for it to develop forwards in turbulent times, further support matters.

By Shay Rowan

The ‘Get Behind Us’ Crowdfunder can be accessed online now, helping to support this venue at a time of uncertainty. To find out more about the theatre, visit the website: www.coliseum.org.uk

By Emily Oldfield 

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