Oldham Coliseum Theatre
|This article relies on references to primary sources. (April 2012)|
The history of Oldham Coliseum Theatre spans a period of 128 years making it one of the oldest theatres in Britain still operating today. The theatre is also one of the home to a traditional pantomime and produces a new production each year attracting audiences of over 35,000. The Coliseum Theatre dates back to 1885 when it began life as the Grand American Circus and Hippodrome. Situated in the heart of Oldham and surrounded by almost a dozen other theatres, almost 125 years later, the award winning Coliseum is the only surviving theatre in the town. The Coliseum stage has seen countless performers over the years from comedy greats Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel to fledgling movie stars such as Ralph Fiennes and Minnie Driver. Many of the stars of Manchester staple Coronation Street have also cut their teeth treading the boards at the Coliseum. Oldham Coliseum Theatre is one of the most established and well attended venues in the North West where it produces eight in-house shows each year. It is also operates as a receiving house for touring productions, visiting companies and special one-night events. The Coliseum as we know it today has recently undergone a £2m facelift and renovation with improved seating, heating and front of house facilities bringing the venue up-to-date with modern theatre-goers’ demands. The auditorium has a capacity of 523 seats, in addition the theatre has a studio space with a more intimate capacity of 50 seats. The in-house and touring productions seen on the main stage each year offers a programme of drama, comedy, musical, new writing and the annual pantomime.
Established in 1885, the Coliseum’s long history began as it tentatively opened its doors as a circus on Henshaw Street. Shortly afterwards the local council demanded that site for use as a new market, its owner and builder, Thomas Whittaker, was forced to relocate and the entire wooden building was dismantled and moved plank by plank to its current site on Fairbottom Street. After becoming an established location for entertainment the building was bought by Peter Yates, of Yates' Wine Lodges, in 1903, the venue was then transformed and for the next 28 years became known as a popular music hall visited by the stars of the time. Following a brief spell as a cinema in the early 1930s, the theatre closed and its furniture and fittings were sold off. In 1938, the building was given a new lease of life when it was reopened as the Oldham Repertory Theatre under the direction of Douglas Emery. At this point the theatre had been stripped of the majority of its interior, including the floorboards, as a result the auditorium actually had an earth floor in the auditorium. Due to licensing issues the venue could only open as a private club at this time. The building was primarily made of wood and there were no fire escapes and so only members could attend to see a play. Word soon spread around the wider population of the town however, about the quality of shows and performances on offer and by the end of the 1950s the resident repertory actors began to move on to the burgeoning television circuit. Because of their authentic Manchester voice, the Oldham Rep actors including, William Roache, Jean Alexander and Pat Phoenix became the original cast of Coronation Street. The Oldham Repertory lasted until 1978 when it was reconstituted as the Oldham Coliseum Theatre. For over 70 years the Coliseum has been a home of producing theatre and has worked with many successful and innovative artists. The Coliseum has developed greatly since its humble beginnings and is now one of only 32 regular producing theatres in England, offering employment and a creative forum to actors, directors, designers, writers and technicians. It is also the last standing theatre in the historic cotton-mill town of Oldham.
Past performers include:
Judith Barker Dora Bryan Charlie Chaplin Minnie Driver Ralph Fiennes Dame Thora Hird Anne Kirkbride William Roache Kathy Staff Eric Sykes Claire Sweeney Kenneth Alan Taylor
1885 – Myers’ New Grand American Circus and Hippodrome built in Henshaw Street.
1887 – Wooden theatre dismantled and moved to Fairbottom Street – advertised initially as The Grand Circus and then re-branded as The Colosseum. Original capacity of 3,000.
1903 – The Colosseum sold to Peter Yates of Yates’ Wine Lodges – it specialises in variety shows and music hall for the next 28 years.
1931 – Theatre converted into a cinema, it closes nine months later and all furnishings, fittings, stage machinery and sets are sold off.
1938 – Oldham Repertory Theatre opens under the direction of Douglas Emery and after 12 months moves to the Coliseum, renovating the derelict theatre. During the war the coliseum hosts Sadlers Wells Opera and the Old Vic.
1947 – Anthony Oakley, playing MacDuff accidentally stabs Harold Norman plying Macbeth in a production of The Scottish Play. Norman dies of his injuries on 27 February.
1959 – Carl Paulsen appointed as Director of Productions, he remains with the Rep until his death in 1973, aged 47. His funeral is a major civic event in the town.
1968 – The theatre moves from weekly to two-weekly rep. with production of Suddenly Last Summer, featuring Pat Phoenix.
1978 – Oldham Rep is re-constituted as Oldham Coliseum Theatre and opens under the direction of Kenneth Alan Taylor with a production of The Revenge of the Werewolf.
1996 – Sian Phillips features as Marlene – in the musical of the same name by Pam Gems, the show then transfers to the West End and Broadway.
2002 – Kevin Shaw takes over as Artistic Director.
2012 – Theatre closes for nine months to undergo major refurbishment costing £1.5m. The newly renovated theatre reopens with The Importance of Being Earnest.