Farewell to Oldham Coliseum: reflections on a beloved theatre’s legacy

When it was announced in March this year that the Oldham Coliseum was set to close, there was a mixture of anger, sadness and loss.

More than a theatre

Theatres like this one offer communities far more than just a show, it is a hub and source of education, creativity, discovery and friendship. It can form a lifelong love of the arts and has done exactly that for so many.

Oldham has lost something vital and staff there have lost their livelihoods despite many valiant attempts to save this superb space from a superb team of local people. You can see why they fought, as this theatre was a source of joy for so many.

With such a historic and loved theatre closing its doors, we thought it was time for staff past and present to share their memories of the Coli and invite you all to do the same. Please add your memories to our socials. #OldhamColiseumMemories

A huge thanks to former head of Marketing and Sales, Shelly Ramsdale who gathered these beautiful memories for you all to reminisce and read. You might need something to wipe your eyes.

Memories of Oldham Coliseum

Christopher Ecclestone and Maxine Peak speaking at the Oldham Coliseum

Nadia Watson, Front of House Duty Manager

“My memories of the Coliseum, though short, are complex. I first moved to Manchester in 2015 where I ended up doing my first acting performance with Oldham Theatre Workshop at Oldham Coliseum, whilst being introduced to the magic of the Coliseum’s productions with my auntie who worked there.

“Fast forward to 2021, and I got a job there which quite literally saved my life. I rediscovered my passion for the arts, made lifelong friends and finally had a job where they support your aspirations (for the starving artist, an understanding day job is not the norm). Not only was I working at a place which supported my aspirations but I got to perform on the stage again with Oldham based theatre company ‘Dare To Know’.

“I can’t limit my Coliseum memories because they are lifelong. But what I do feel is immense gratitude to have been there until the bitter end, connected with the volunteers and audience members who have collectively shared their passion and love for Oldham Coliseum.”

An emotional farewell

Rebecka Pyper, Marketing  & Communications Assistant

“Although I only worked at the Coliseum for seven months, the memories I have there will last a lifetime! When I first started working at the Coliseum in September 2022, I instantly felt at home, I was completely bowled over by the kindness, warmth and knowledge of every member of staff. I will always remember panto season, being able to listen to the laughter and shouts of children almost every day throughout November, December and January brought me so much joy. I am so proud to have been a staff member at the Coliseum and I will always be grateful for the memories made and the people I met.”

Kevin Leach, Technical Manager

“So many memories…

“Having to show-stop before the show had actually even begun on panto a couple of years back. During overture, the lighting desk froze. I went out in front of the showcloth at least twice to apologise and each time it did the same as before. Each time I got a “booooo” on telling them we have a technical issue. We were going to pull the show to a full house but on the third and final time going out to speak to the audience I was serenaded with “oh no its not!”

“Pulling up some flooring centre of the circle pre-refurb to reveal dead mice skeletons, packets of woodbine cigs, old rep entry tickets/programmes and mountains of chewed-up paper. How on earth that mix of cigarettes and dry paper didn’t cause a severe incident when venues allowed indoor smoking is beyond me?”

Fine Time Fontayne, Daisy the Cow.

“Meeting my partner at the colly, we bought a house together.

“The numerous one night Ken Dodd shows. Arriving late. No idea until last minute of performance what was required. Went on until next year and then when he did finally come off he opened a 4 pack of fosters in his dressing room and carried on his routine. The best I’ve ever worked with. Genius and a very nice bloke.

“We were about to tour Up On The Roof I think it was. I needed to do a site visit to New Wolsey, Ipswich. I tied it in with a Latics (Oldham Athletic) match in Southampton on a Tuesday night. Set off at 5am from Oldham. Got to Southampton via Ipswich in the theatre van at 6pm.

Lucy Woodcock, Wardrobe Supervisor

“Going back to work in the wardrobe department for the Coliseum after a 22-year gap which brought back all the old memories and reminiscing on my time there. Working with people who are still there, working in spaces that haven’t changed much and finding costumes that I’ve made still hanging in the costume store! And now the best memory I will take away from Oldham Coliseum is meeting and working with amazing people who work hard to make the best theatre.”

Adam Gent, Production Manager

“It was Jack and the Beanstalk, I think the 2013 outing, I have slept some since then.

“We had a viable trap door in the stage for the first time in decades and we were having a beanstalk grow out of it. That was the plan. We spent so much time planning how to make the trapdoor work, and how to make the beanstalk grow, it was the centrepiece of the scenic side of the production. It got to tech week and the beanstalk just didn’t seem to work the way we wanted it to, I spent much of tech week down the trap with colleagues trying to make it work the way we wanted to, to be a ‘believable’ beanstalk. I can honestly say that much of my language that week regarding the beanstalk was not family friendly.”

Anthony Hunt, Jeffrey Harmer, Lauryn Redding, Reece Richardson, Matt Connor and Richard J Fletcher

“Then it came to the first preview, Saturday Matinee, we got to the end of Act 1, the growing scene. The trap door opened, the beanstalk began to grow, and hundreds of kids in the audience audibly gasped. That gasp restored my faith in Theatre Magic.

“That’s why we do it, for the kids.”

Kyle Wilcock, Front of House Duty Manager and Volunteer Coordinator

“My first memory of the Coliseum was being taken to the 2001 pantomime Cinderella written by the wonderful Kenneth Alan Taylor and starring a local actor who was a friend of my dad! My grandparents took me to all annual pantos from that point onwards and my love of the Coliseum began.

“In 2007 I began acting sessions at the theatre which I did for about seven years before joining the theatre’s voluntary front of house staff headed up by Coliseum’s legendary Front of House Manager, David Rustidge. I loved my time as a volunteer and would often do four evenings a week just to be at the Coliseum. I was thrilled in “2018 when paid positions became available with the FOH and Box Office teams. I saw many staff come and go before becoming 2nd in department and then started my tenure as Interim House Manager in December of 2022. As we all know, tragedy struck and the theatre closed in March 2023. We were all heartbroken. I had to deliver the news to my loyal band of over 60 voluntary staff and my casual bar and events team.”

Alan French, Abigail Climer, Ibinabo Jack, Lakesha Cammock, Nicola Hawkins

“I am an avid Coliseum historian and have an archive programme collection spanning back to 1940! The Coliseum has, for a long time, been my life and I’ve been proud to work in such a prestigious venue following in the footsteps of hardworking and dedicated staff. A stand out production at the theatre for me came in 2015 when we produced Hot Stuff, a ‘70s juke box musical which was devised for the Coliseum in 1990 and toured the West End. The theatre has celebrated many successes over the years including the regional premiere of The Rocky Horror Show in 1981.

“I am so grateful for my time spent at the Coliseum, I will miss it dearly and have many fond memories of the place and the wonderful people I had the pleasure to work with.”

Carol Moore, Deputy Box Office Manager

“Matt Rixon falling down the stairs and me fainting when I went to help – and the fall resulting in re-doing part of the production to take out some dancing.

“Fine Time (Fontayne, former Panto Dame) used to lodge with me for pantomime. For some reason one year the staff Christmas do was the evening before a 10.15am performance. Fine Time was usually up and out by 8am when there was a morning show as he liked to go and get breakfast somewhere. At about 8.45am I hadn’t heard him leave so I went and knocked on his door. ‘Come in’ he muttered, I said ‘you do know its 8.45am and you have a morning show?’ ‘Oh s**t’ was the reply. “

“Oh and he was still fully dressed from the night before…”

Ann- Marie Mason, Box Office Manager

“The time when Steve Coogan was in the audience and we’d had a new ticketing system nightmare and someone was sat In his seat! He was lovely about it but of all the people!:

Ade Obikoya, Finance Assistant

“I’ll never forget the ever-busy panto days…kudos to everyone most importantly the creative team!”

Rachel Hollister, Administrator

“I have too many fond memories of the Coliseum, but the main one is how I practically grew up there. From eight years old, I started off as a chorus member in my first ever panto, Babes in the Wood. From then on I was part of the chorus every year until I was 16 and too old to do it. I then went on to work there in various different roles. On the last night of every panto, our hearts used to break and we would cry our eyes out because it was over, until next year. It was funny, because the actors never cried that it was over, they were tired from the long run and ready for the break! But us kids could have done it every day, all year round, forever!!! It was the best thing I ever did and I’m grateful to have been a part of it for so long.”

Jane Jones, Company Stage Manager

“I was working on The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, hiding under a platform ready to do a scene change. Something moved and I looked to my right and sat on the cheese sandwich I had prepared for the show –  was a little mouse. We sat together for a little while pretending we hadn’t seen each other and then when I moved to do the scene change it ran away. Then I very quickly had to remove the mouse-cheese sandwich and replace it with a fresh sandwich.

“We worked with the Great Kavari a magician on The Invisible Man, he helped with the Invisible Man tricks. I was walking past the dock when he shouted at me “you young lady come here, I need to put you in this box.” I didn’t question it and very quickly I was being put into a box that was a trick set of treads to demonstrate to the Director, my Stage Management team mates and the rather tall actor who was to do this trick how the trick worked.

“Before computers were a thing, David Rustidge used to write his Front of House reports for each performance and then deliver them to the Stage Management office so that the Deputy Stage Manager could photocopy them with the Show Reports – double sided – and distribute to the department’s pigeon holes at stage door. My favorite thing David wrote was: “It was a rather wet and windy entry.

“Beryl was ace, but I couldn’t believe Chris (Lawson, Artistic Director) when he asked for yet another bike in rehearsals – there were already eight in the room  to be fair one had broken.

“Running around Alexandra Park with a couple of prop daggers in my pockets and a prop machete down the back of my shorts for our promenade production Star-Cross’d – I didn’t want to alarm any public by having the prop weapons in my hands in view!”

Jamie Walsh, Producer

“There are so many great memories I have from working at the Coliseum. Sitting in rehearsals for Bread & Roses and hearing the powerful voices of the cast singing Hard Times. Launching Cultivate and the Main House takeover. Being surrounded by school kids going absolutely mental for Old Town Road by Lil Nas X while they were waiting for panto to start. Filming all the advent plays and getting Chris (Lawson, Artistic Director) to dress up as the Dame. The Coliseum was so full of life, heart and possibility with so many amazing people doing so many amazing things. Those are the memories I’ll keep.”

Shelly Ramsdale, Head of Marketing & Sales

“Panto allowed me to do some very silly press stunts, so I have a few of those to look back on – Fine Time Fontayne dressed in a brilliant My Little Pony costume on a carousel at Manchester Christmas Markets, taking Cinderella and Prince Charming to their first date in Nando’s, Jack taking his vegan cow to Greggs to try the new Vegan Bake.

“I’ll always remember the announcement photoshoot for Aladdin, which I’d arranged at a Launderette in Milnrow. Before we set off Shorelle (Hepkin, playing Aladdin that year) very matter of factly said to me: “I’m not getting in a washing machine, Shelly” – that’s not something people with normal jobs hear from their colleagues! I’m also very proud of my annual panto cast trip to Dr Kershaw’s Hospice – it always brought cheer to the residents and staff, and there was one year that the cast even did a short performance.

“I have always loved sitting in rehearsals – managing rehearsal photography or just watching a run. I find it really interesting seeing how different directors and companies work together. There was one rehearsal that really stands out: it was Up N Under and Chris (Lawson) was directing. Chris was Associate Director at the time and Kevin Shaw was Artistic Director. Chris had given one of the cast – Reece Richardson – a note to maintain eye contact with Kevin throughout a sexy dance to Pony by Ginuwine. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed.

“On top of it all, Encore will stay with me forever. I’m so incredibly proud of all of us for what we achieved in just two weeks, while we were all going through that major crisis, and it means so much to me that so many people came back to the Coli to support us and be part of it. The Coliseum has this thing that it really feels like a family, and the theatre building itself is our home. The week leading up to and the day of Encore felt like a big reunion, with our extended family all coming home to us one last time. I get quite emotional just thinking about it.

“A huge thanks to Shelly and the team for sharing these poignant and funny memories. And best of luck to you all of you wherever you’re headed next.”

Thanks for all you have done for Oldham; the audiences, the kids, and the community off stage and on stage from all of us at I Love MCR.

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