Corrie stars call for Coliseum ‘sit-in’

Julie Hesmondhaugh and Maxine Peake

Earlier today (22nd March, 2023), The Stage newspaper exclusively revealed that two famous actresses, Julie Hesmondhalgh and Maxine Peake, have called on supporters of the 138 year old Oldham Coliseum to stage a sit-in at the venue in protest against its forthcoming closure.

This follows the announcement on 16th March, 2023, by the management of the much-loved venue, that the curtain would come down for the final time at the end of this month, despite multi-faceted efforts to save it.

They both spoke out about the closure, with Julie, famous for a sixteen year stint playing Hayley Cropper in Coronation Street, arguing Arts Council England could have done more to save the historic site, labelling its forthcoming closure an act of “cultural vandalism”.

Maxine appeared in the Street as Belinda Peach, the daughter of abattoir owners, whom butcher Fred Elliott tried to pair off with Ashley Peacock at the Freshco’s ball in June 1999. She has said, previously, that the Coliseum was her inspiration, as a child, for becoming an actress.

Both actors have been centrally involved in championing the venue after The Coliseum lost Arts Council England (ACE) funding in November, 2022.

This is Julie’s statement:

“I am heartbroken and furious. I believe that ACE North and Oldham Council could have saved the Coliseum,”

“For ACE to give £1.8 million to the council for the promotion of the arts when there is a beloved organisation and building right there, with its rich cultural history; a building that employs many local people and artists, that brings people to the town; an organisation that has worked for years to connect with all the communities in Oldham and produce high-quality theatre and artistic engagement: it makes no sense.”

“It is a tragedy for Oldham. Where will that money go? What will happen to the building? The land? This is a tragedy borne of austerity and an all-too familiar disregard for small, struggling northern towns, for art, for theatre.

“I think we should, as a community, stage a sit-in and refuse yet another piece of cultural vandalism.”

Maxine repeated some of Julie’s lines and said:

“I am devastated, and I don’t use the word lightly.”

“I am devastated and angry for the people of Oldham, the staff, the creatives, admin and everyone who has worked at Oldham tirelessly to keep that theatre running.

“I just feel more than ever towns like Oldham need creative spaces, safe spaces for people to come together.”

“It’s a very sad day, not just for Oldham and the North West but for the arts in general and the future of working-class actors from all backgrounds.”

Freelancers Make Theatre Work, speaking on behalf of the numerous freelance workers in the theatre and creative sector that worked at the Coliseum, warned that it would ‘leave a hole’ in the arts community.

“Like many, we are deeply disappointed by the news, especially considering the passionate and vocal support from across the theatre world highlighting the importance of local, producing venues that support freelancers and their communities.

“The hole that this venue leaves will not be easy to fill, and the precedent being set for such drastic funding cuts that effectively remove theatre from a community is shocking.”

Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council recently released this statement:

“Oldham Council is committed to the delivery of a new theatre in the Town Centre.
The planned new theatre building was successful in gaining Towns Deal funding from
central government in June 2021 and work has progressed significantly with detailed plans
well advanced. It is proposed that the new theatre be progressed through a further
consultation ahead of submitting a planning application, and funding arrangements
confirmed, including the use of Towns Deal.

“Alongside this, Oldham has been offered access to £1.845 million of Arts Council funding
to provide performance, arts and culture across the borough over the next three-years. In
order to access this funding, Oldham Council has a requirement to indicate its acceptance
of this funding and to recommit to the development of a new theatre for the Borough”.

The Arts Council made the following statement:

“Oldham Coliseum is a well-loved fixture in the town and understandably many people have strong feelings about the future of the theatre.

“Oldham Coliseum Ltd has been facing financial and governance challenges for some time and as guardians of public money we could not invest in an organisation which we assessed to be such a high risk.

“Their funding continues until the end of March after which we’ve agreed additional support of nearly £360,000 to help them with decisions about the future. Arts Council England is absolutely committed to supporting creativity and culture for the people of Oldham, and we’re standing by our commitment to invest £1.85 million in performing arts in the town and overall our investment in the arts in Oldham will be higher than ever before.

“The Oldham Coliseum building, which is reaching its natural end, is owned by Oldham Council and has never been part of our funding to the company. We are fully behind the plans shared by the Council for a new performing space that will be informed by the legacy of the Oldham Coliseum and which will ensure there’s brilliant theatre in Oldham for people to enjoy for years to come”.

The venue dates back to 1885 when it began life as The Coliseum in the town centre, amongst a cluster of other theatres which were opened to entertain residents during the peak years of cotton industry prosperity.

But, by the 21st century, the Coliseum, now sited in a crumbling building on Fairbottom Street, had become the only surviving professional theatre in the town.

Despite its compact size of 585 seats, it has an illustrious roll-call of past performers whom have trodden the boards there, from comedy legends such as Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, to latter day movie stars such as Ralph Fiennes and Minnie Driver.

Many of Coronation Street’s early cast members including Jean Alexander as the iconic Hilda Ogden, began their careers with the Coliseum’s repertory company.

Page last updated Wednesday 22nd March, 2023 at 1320hrs

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Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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