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Director James Atherton on Eyam

Eyam header

We spoke to Oldham Theatre Workshop‘s Artistic Director James Atherton ahead of Eyam, their new production coming to the Coliseum next week.


Tell us about Eyam, and why you’ve programmed the piece?

Eyam is the true story of a small Derbyshire village that was hit by the plague in the autumn of 1665. The new rector William Mompesson persuaded the villagers almost single-handed to stay cut off from the world in order to stop the plague spreading throughout the county, and over the next 13 months 260 of the 350-strong community died. Within this story of sacrifice and heroism we see how the self-imposed isolation affected the community’s individuals. Despite the enormity of the tragedy, this is a life-affirming and still relevant drama, set to powerful music.

10 years ago our production was made the subject of a BBC One documentary Greater Love Hath No Man, which was screened on Good Friday, 2006, and won the Premier Award from the Sandford St Martin Trust. This year marks the 350th anniversary of the events in the village and so it felt appropriate to revive our piece.


What makes the show relevant to young people?

Although the story of Eyam is 350 years old; the themes of community, love and self sacrifice remain relevant in today’s society. At Oldham Theatre Workshop we always create or re-tell stories from the perspectives of the young people in them. The story of Eyam has been told many times before but the usual focus tend to be on the adults in the village. We have had some fascinating conversations here with the young cast over the last three months. We have looked at how community has changed over the time but also how some of the basic traits of humanity remain the same. We’ve also looked at how disease outbreaks are not a thing of the past. Many of the young company members were very knowledgeable on the Ebola virus and how it has had devastating effects on communities in Africa. Most of all we have looked at the theme of love. Love for our family and friends. Love for the people we live with and even love for those we don’t.


What’s your role at Oldham Theatre Workshop – is there something like a typical working day for you or is no one day the same?

My role as Artistic Director of Oldham Theatre Workshop is a varied one and no one day is quite like another. At OTW we have a core programme of workshops, master classes and productions that run in and out of our building in the centre of town. As well as running some of those practical sessions and directing productions I am also responsible for bringing together a team of creatives to deliver and shape the work. I manage a small team of 5 permanent staff at the Old Museum and we attract somewhere in the region of 400 young people between the ages of 6 and 25 to our studios every week. We also have a number of projects that are active across Oldham’s communities. Here we use theatre techniques in non-traditional settings to bring people together and to stimulate positive change. It is quite possibly the best job in the world and I get to work with some amazing people. We have a huge number of past members successfully working in the industry and many of them, maintain a close relationship with the company and current members. I am very proud to run an organisation that invests in people’s passion and love to hear how fondly people remember their time as young performers here.


What’s next for Oldham Theatre Workshop?

We never stop here at OTW and so as we are in the final stages of preparation for our Summer production we are also planning our Summer holiday programme and our Christmas production.




Eyam comes to the Coliseum from Wednesday 22 – Saturday 25 July





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