Oldham Coliseum Theatre

 Oldham Coliseum Theatre

The history of the Coliseum is as rich as any other theatre, its past shrouded in mystery, speculation and bad business deals.

In 1885 a Mr Myers contracted local carpenter Thomas Whittaker to build a permanent home for his Grand American Circus in Henshaw Street. A court case soon followed when Mr Myers admitted he was unable to settle the bill. Whittaker found himself owner of the new theatre and without having had any experience at all, decided to embark on a career in show business. In 1887 the town council announced they were planning to build a new market hall on the site of the theatre and so Whittaker had the theatre moved to Fairbottom Street on the site of an old colliery. The opening production was Culvers Circus.

In February 1903 Whittaker sold the theatre to Joseph Ball who ran it on behalf of Peter Yates, the owner of Yates Wine Lodges. In 1911 the Colosseum (as it was then called) began showing silent films in between live acts. In 1918 the theatre was bought by Dobie´s Electric Theatres.

In March 1931 the theatre closed and reopened as a cinema but it only survived until March 1932 when the recession caused complete closure. In 1936 a group was formed to campaign for live theatre in Oldham called The Oldham Playgoers Club. In January 1938 The Oldham Repertory Theatre Club opened at the former Temperance Hall in Horsedge Street with its production of Shaw´s Arms and the Man. The club was for members only thus avoiding the need to be licensed. Here they provided weekly rep until 1939. Such was their success that they signed the lease on the now derelict Colosseum, they renamed it The Coliseum and in July 1939 they staged their first production in their new home

The Oldham Coliseum was the scene of a tragic accident involving the play that raises the hackles of superstition in many actors: Macbeth.

In January 1947, Harold Norman was an actor playing the role of Macbeth, it is said that he did not care for the usual superstitions observed by actors in ‘The Scottish Play’ referring top the play as Macbeth and rehearsing his lines outloud. During a sword fight scene Harold was accidentally stabbed with a real sword. The wound became infected and he died in Oldham Royal infirmary on the 27th February of peritonitis caused by the sword wound.

This unfortunate death was bound to have an effect of peoples minds, the tragic event, the nature of the play, and Harold’s lack of superstition. Inevitably Harold was thought to have returned to the theatre in spirit form, and he is said to have been seen several times. His apparition appears most often on Thursdays, as this was the day that he was mortally wounded.


First Broadcast: 16th November 2004

4 thoughts on “Oldham Coliseum Theatre”

  1. I found a press cutting about the stabbing incident in my late father’s possessions. He was not a theatre buff so I was puzzled about it. I noticed that the actor playing Macduff (who accidentally stabbed Norman) was Anthony Oakley. Dad served in West Africa during WW2 and, among photos of his fellow officers, is one Captain Oakley who bears a similarity to the profile shot I have of Oakley. From IMdb I see he appeared in two films in 1949. I wonder how the incident at Oldham impacted on his life and career subsequently?

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