The Oldham Coliseum

by | Oct 8, 2017 | 1960s, Celebrity, History, Manchester

The Oldham Coliseum Theatre is one of the oldest theatres in the country. It is still used today and is notable for it’s pantomime productions. The theatre is situated near Oldham town centre and dates back to 1885. Once one of many theatre in the town, it is now the only one that remains open.

The coliseum was initially used as a circus 1887. Following this, the venue was used as music hall for a number of years. It was also briefly used as a cinema in 1931 before closing for a period of time. The theatre underwent a transformation in 1939 and reopened as the Oldham Repertory Theatre. Due to the popularity of the productions at the theatre, many of the stage actors went on to have successful TV careers. Charlie Chaplin performed at the coliseum, as did numerous members of Coronation Street. Pat Phoenix, Jean Alexander, William Roach, Judith Barker and Barbara Knox all performed at the Theatre. Other famous faces who performed at the venue include, Dora Bryan, Minnie Driver, Ralph Fiennes and Dame Thora Hird.

Long standing Coronation Actress Barbara Knox (then known by the name Barbara Mullaney), made her stage debut at the Oldham Coliseum in 1962 with a small part in a production of Goodbye Mr. Chips. In 1964 she landed a role in the play A Shot in the Arm. She suffered an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction on stage when the zip of her dress broke.

Actress Barbara Knox suffered a wardrobe malfunction when her zip broke on stage at the Oldham Coliseum

Actress Barbara Mullaney (later known as Barbara Knox) suffered a wardrobe malfunction on stage during a performance at the Oldham Repertory Theatre. 20th September 1964.

Coronation Street legend Pat Phoenix also performed at the theatre with a role in the play Suddenly Last Summer in July 1968. She played the lead role of Catherine in the play written by Tennessee Williams. She is pictured here discussing the role with the theatre director Carl Paulsen.

Pat Phoenix discussing her role with theatre director Carl Paulsen

Pat Phoenix discussing her role in the play ‘Suddenly Last Summer’ with theatre director Carl Paulsen. 15th July 1968.

Oldham born Judith Barker trained at the coliseum and appeared in numerous productions. She appeared in Coronation Street from 1969 – 1977 where she played the role of Janet Barlow. Judith went on to have a successful acting career both on TV and on stage. She is pictured here at the coliseum in 1964.

Judith Barker at the Oldham Coliseum, April 1964.

Actress Judith Barker at the Oldham Repertory Theatre, 17th April 1964.

In 2012, the theatre closed for refurbishment at a cost of 2 million. The improvements and modernisation took 9 months to complete and the theatre reopened in October 2012 with a production of The Importance of Being Earnest.

The theatre has a capacity of over 500 seats, split between three levels. There are many shows throughout the year as well as an annual pantomime.

The Oldham Coliseum has recently been awarded a grant of 7.1 million. The grant, provided by the Arts Council England, is being used to move the theatre to a new location as well as fund a new Heritage and Arts centre. This is the second time the theatre has moved to a different location, with the first move occurring in 1887. The move from Fairbottom Street to Union Street is expected to complete in 2020.