Steve Cooke informs Norman Warwick


closes a century of theatre in Oldham    

As will be true of many people living in the area, I have fond memories of visiting The Oldham Coliseum Theatre, one of my favourite venues of my fifty and more years I lived in the region. My wife and I took my mum to see South Pacific there, in around 2011, a year or so after my dad had died. There must have been some bitter sweet memories for her, as the show had always been my parents´ favourite musical. It was amazing to see how the production and the cast listed mum´s spirits after a terrible year and she seemed to enjoy singing along with a soundtrack she and dad had loved so much.

The Oldham Coliseum was, literally, a foot of the hill, street corner theatre in a town known for its wind-chill factor. In fact, on the night we took mum to hear those great songs like Happy Talk, the descent from the distant car park was iced over, and the numbing window was whistling through the darkness straight into our faces. The drive from Heywood where we lived was only about seven or eight miles long but was busy and nerve jangling at the best of tiomes, and Oldham town centre was pretty hazardous around the bus station and market place-

Arts commentator Steve Cooke (left) produces his all across the arts pages from Littleborough near Rochdale but, as we do here at Sidetracks and Detours, seeks to place parochial news into a global overview.

´Another hole has been blasted in the fabric of arts and culture´, Steve Cooke wrote..´The loss of the Coliseum will be mourned not only in its immediate environment but across the whole creative arts community.

Our thoughts must be with the wonderful team of professionals and volunteers who provided an oasis of quality live entertainment for so many´.

Back in monochrome days such as Bill Roach (left, second right), Thora Hird (above), Kathy Staff and Jean Alexander trod its famous boards.

The wonderful Sue Devaney (right) celebrated the life of the iconic Gracie Fields.

In recent times families have been treated to exhilarating experiences with such as The Jungle Book and Robin Hood.- many young people gaining their first encounter with live theatre.

The statement in full  from The Coliseum management team read;

It is with deep sadness that we confirm the forthcoming closure of Oldham Coliseum Theatre and the beginning of a redundancy process that will affect all staff. Doors to the historic venue will close to the public for the final time on 31 March 2023.

Following the news on 4 November 2022 that the Coliseum will no longer be part of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio from 1 April 2023, the Board of Trustees and Senior Leadership Team have been determined to find a solution to this reduction in funding. NPO funding was a third of the Coliseum’s income, and in addition, its loss affects the ability of the organisation to apply for alternate funding. The financial situation therefore is not sustainable for the current continuation of the business.

Having cancelled all events from 26 March 2023 onwards and refunded tickets for affected performances, the Coliseum entered a period of consultation with all staff on 10 February 2023. A thorough and meaningful consultation period concluded on 13 March 2023.

Our staff remain our priority as we move into the redundancy process. The Coliseum is not the historic building so many have come to adore, it is the company that runs it and the people who fill its halls with memories. In recent weeks we have also lost a beloved friend and colleague, General Manager and former Head of Production Lesley Chenery. Her passing will now forever be entwined in memory with the closure of the company.

Many of our team have lived in Oldham all their lives and worked with the company for over a decade, bringing immense benefit to the town – not just in creating and presenting great theatre – but in offering opportunity and inspiration to all of Oldham’s communities. Coliseum staff benefit from generations of knowledge and skills passed down through departments. The unique skillset of our team includes arts engagement expertise that has allowed the Coliseum to share the mental and physical health benefits created via access to the arts, exemplified in recent projects working in partnership with Oldham’s Roma and South Asian communities; and technical theatre knowledge that profits young people from across Oldham, Rochdale and Tameside, including those not in Education Employment or Training (NEET) who have gained employment after taking part in our UK Theatre Award nominated Teaching Theatre Pathways programme.

We know the theatre’s closure is deeply upsetting for our audiences and participants, not least because of the joyful memories that hundreds of thousands of people from across the North West have of visiting the Coliseum to get involved in projects or to experience our home-produced plays, musicals and award-winning pantomimes.

The Coliseum has been at the heart of theatre in Oldham for over 100 years and has survived two World Wars and a global pandemic. Our theatre company has a highly regarded history in the industry dating back to the Oldham Rep, which launched the careers of many famous faces. This tradition has continued in recent years, actors from Coliseum productions of the past decade now regulars on our television screens. We would like to thank the unions Equity and BECTU for their vocal and passionate support and for highlighting the importance of producing theatre for actors and theatre workers as well as audiences and communities.

The Coliseum’s closure is supported by Arts Council England’s Transition Fund, which was applied for and granted to honour contracts with affected artists and support staff redundancy. In addition, an enhanced redundancy package has been made available for all Coliseum staff from savings derived from the UK producing theatre network, meaning those that have dedicated their lives to producing theatre reap the benefits of that work.

Over the coming weeks we will continue to present the remainder of events currently on sale up to and including Saturday 25 March. We are also considering possible opportunities to mark the closing of the Coliseum and any details of such events will be announced in due course.

The outpouring of love for the theatre over the past weeks has been overwhelming, demonstrating the Coliseum’s impact on the communities of Oldham and further afield. To our audiences, industry colleagues, partners, sponsors, funders, patrons and friends – we cannot thank you enough for your support over more than a century of theatre.

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