Christopher Eccleston: I would not be an actor if it was not for Oldham Coliseum

The actor said the TV and theatre industry is still an ‘elitist organisation’.
The actor said the TV and theatre industry is still an ‘elitist organisation’. The actor said the TV and theatre industry is still an ‘elitist organisation’.

Christopher Eccleston said it would be “impossible” for him to become an actor in today’s world following the closure of venues such as the Oldham Coliseum.

The actor appeared at the Greater Manchester venue alongside Maxine Peake to perform an extract of I, Daniel Blake for the venue’s final performance on Friday evening after Arts Council England (ACE) announced funding for the venue would be cut.

The 59-year-old star of screen and stage, who grew up in Salford, said he went to see productions at Oldham Coliseum in his youth, describing it as a “beacon” for actors in the area.

He told Martha Kearney on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it’s tragic that Oldham borough is losing a theatre in a time when we’re supposed to be levelling up.

“The question in my mind is, if they can get rid of Oldham Coliseum, which has been there for over 100 years, where’s next for the North West because if you grow up in the North West, you don’t feel that culture and the arts belong to you.

“You don’t believe if you come from a council estate that you can be an actor or a poet or a painter.

“So places like Oldham Coliseum…they’re a beacon for people like me.

“I wouldn’t be an actor if it wasn’t for Oldham Coliseum, (and) places like that, and they’re disappearing. So what happens to the next generation of Chris Eccleston or Maxine Peake’s or whoever you want to name.”

ACE is investing £1.85 million in the borough and Oldham Council recently announced plans for a new theatre, reportedly costing £24 million, which is scheduled to open in 2026.

Oldham Coliseum faces closure
Oldham Coliseum faces closure Members of the audience at a public meeting to save the historic Oldham Coliseum in Greater Manchester (Equity/PA)

Eccleston said, as an aspiring actor, he secured a grant to attend a drama school with no academic qualifications which is now necessary “so there’s no more of actors like me coming through”, he said.

The former Doctor Who star claimed it would be “impossible” for somebody from his background to become an actor today.

He said: “The pathway into the arts is not there for them in the way that it was for me… now you’ve got to go to public school, you’ve got to be Oxbridge otherwise you can’t act.

“It’s a lot harder for people of my background to get in.

“It’s got worse, not better.”

“If you want to be an actor, you’re going to have to put up with the unemployment, you’re going have to put up with the rejection, and that’s going to be double if you’re from a working class background, ethnic minority.

“It’s still an elitist organisation, television, theatre, is incredibly elitist, and getting more so, which is why it’s the North West that is losing its theatres.”

The Oldham Coliseum’s final show, titled Encore, featured script-in-hand performances of scenes and songs from productions of the past decade, including I, Daniel Blake and Aladdin.

It also paid tribute to the theatre’s long history including the actor Harold Norman, who died in 1947 after being accidentally stabbed on stage during a performance of Macbeth and appeared with a credit in the programme as a resident ghost.