Oldham Coliseum: A Curtain Call for a Historic Theatre after Funding Cuts

The historic Oldham Coliseum theatre has closed its doors for the last time after 135 years of providing entertainment to the town’s residents. A sold-out audience of hundreds gathered to bid farewell to the venue, with actors Christopher Eccleston and Maxine Peake leading the tributes. The closure comes after the theatre had its Arts Council England funding removed. Oldham Council claims that the building, which dates back to 1887, is “at the end of its life.” The Coliseum has trained a host of stars, including Jean Alexander and William Roache from Coronation Street, Sarah Lancashire from Happy Valley, and Suranne Jones from Doctor Foster. The venue was also famous for its pantomimes and youth theatre productions. Eccleston said he would not have become an actor if it was not for places like the Coliseum and questioned what would happen to the next generation of actors without such venues.

Former artistic director Kenneth Alan Taylor, who had acted in 320 Coliseum shows, said the closure was heartbreaking. He told the audience, “just think of all the actors who started their career [here]. There wouldn’t be a Coronation Street now [without it].” The theatre’s closing night featured snippets from past shows, including the highest-grossing production, Brassed Off, complete with a 15-piece brass band, and a performance by the youth theatre about the venue’s famous ghost, actor Harold Norman. There was also a last hurrah for its popular pantomime, with a 15-strong cast in full costume performing a pop medley that climaxed with an upbeat rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop.

Oldham Council has plans to create a new theatre to replace the Coliseum, which is due to open in 2026 at a cost of £24.5m. The council said the current building has issues with asbestos, poor accessibility, and cramped backstage and front-of-house facilities. A £2m renovation in 2012 was intended to give it another decade of use. Critics have expressed skepticism over whether the new theatre will be completed by 2026, and whether it will adequately replace the Coliseum.

The Coliseum’s funding was removed as part of a shake-up announced by Arts Council England in November. The venue received over £600,000 a year from ACE, making it the biggest theatre outside London to lose its subsidy. ACE said it had identified “major risks and concerns around their finance, governance and leadership.” However, ACE has ringfenced the same amount of money, £1.85m over the next three years, to fund other cultural activity in the Greater Manchester town. The Council says the new theatre will be “a creative and cultural venue with multiple purposes,” and ACE is supporting the plan. Oldham residents who have worked at the Coliseum have described it as the “most welcoming building” and “like home,” with the closure leaving many saddened.

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