BAFTA and Bruntwood Award winning writer Ian Kershaw on the Coliseum and what theatre in Oldham means to him

The Arts Council of England have recently had tough choices to make and many companies have subsequently lost their NPO status - a £600,000 pa cut may be a manageable loss to some larger organisations but to the Oldham Coliseum it may prove to be devastating. I consider myself very fortunate to have had plays commissioned and produced by the Coliseum but mostly, I am an audience member and Oldham is my home town.


Oldham is a town that has never been 'levelled-up' but the theatre has survived thanks to a combination of generous support from ACE, Oldham Council, sponsors and loyal audience. The audiences here are famed and unique - actors are prepared that they'll be talked to during their performances and vociferous comments and responses will be hurled at them for their character actions - it's a special place. Several years ago, the Coliseum canvassed the town and were disappointed to hear that very few people said they went to the theatre but when the question was re-framed as 'Do you go to the Coliseum?' the response was considerably more favourable. A huge section of this audience do not consider going to 'their Coliseum' as 'going to the theatre' - the belief that they will somehow gravitate to Manchester and beyond will not be realised, the majority of the Coliseum's audience are connected to 'their' theatre, they don't have the same connection to the larger buildings in Manchester.  

Like everyone who lives in the town, who works at the Coliseum, or ever visits it - it soon becomes 'their' theatre too.

I came to the Coliseum later than most in the town. I wasn't one of the thousands of children who see the legendary pantomime every year. Sitting with friends, school-parties or parents or grandparents or carers. Those children standing, screaming at the injustice of the what terrible deed the baddie has done to the goodie before they dance in the aisles and cheer the 'they all lived happily ever after'

I went later in life to see productions of Sondheim and Shakespeare, plays by Amanda Whittington and Tanika Gupta and so much new writing on the main stage. 

I have railed against the injustice of how the miners were treated in Brassed Off and I have danced (in my seat) to Chicago.

I have seen pensioners on Saturday matinees armed with shopping bags to watch Sian Philips performing Pam Gems' 'Marlene'.

I have seen audiences moved to tears and howl with laughter.

I have seen community plays and people of all ages taking part.

I have seen the work of the outreach and education departments all over the town.

I have seen the Full Circle group of older patrons, meeting once a month to drink tea and chat about plays.

I have seen the theatre reach out to include and involve anyone and everyone from the town and beyond.

And now I see a cut. 


I won't be hurling stones at larger organisations for receiving generous grants - we are all on the same side, we show solidarity with each other, and I know they will be there standing shoulder to shoulder to help and to protect the Coliseum through the difficult years ahead. 


And everyone associated with the Coliseum, who has ownership of it, will be doing our best to raise money, to imagine new ways of serving a loyal audience and somehow fight to survive. 


In the meantime, please come along, book a ticket to the panto or another show or please consider becoming a member or make a one-off donation, and maybe we can all live happily ever after...


- Ian Kershaw

Oldhamer, Bruntwood Award winning playwright and BAFTA award winning screenwriter


15 November 2022



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