Christopher Eccleston says it would be ‘impossible’ for him to become an actor today
Christopher Eccleston has been praised for his impassioned words on how the closure of Oldham’s historic Coliseum theatre will affect the acting community.
The Coliseum was closed on Friday after a failed campaign to save the venue, which became the biggest theatre outside London to lose its Arts Council England subsidy of £600,000 per year following a funding shake-up in November.
Eccleston, who grew up in Salford, participated in a closing-night event at the theatre alongside 20 fellow actors, including Maxine Peake. All paid tribute to the venue, which Eccleston said had been a “beacon” for actors in the Greater Manchester area.
The former Doctor Who star appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday (1 April), and spoke about the ramifications of the theatre’s closure for the acting community in the area.
“I went to see productions there as a child, and I just think it’s tragic that Oldham and its borough is losing a theatre in a time where we’re supposed to be levelling up,” he said.
“What last night was about was beginning a campaign to establish a new theatre in Oldham, and also to say this can’t happen anywhere else. Because 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?”
Eccleston, whose credits include Cracker, 28 Days Later... and The Leftovers, continued: “If you grow up in the North West, you don’t feel the culture and the arts belong to you. You don't believe, if you come from a council estate, [that] you can be an actor, a poet or a painter.
“So places like Oldham Coliseum, Bolton Octagon – they’re a beacon for people like me.”
He said he “wouldn't be an actor if it wasn’t for” such venues, stating: “And they’re disappearing. So what happens to this generation’s Chris Ecclestons or Maxine Peakes, or whoever you want to name?
“There’s no more actors like me coming through – it’s impossible. Now, you’ve just got to go to public school, haven’t you? You’ve got to go to Oxbridge, otherwise you can’t act.”
He said he would advise aspiring actors from the North West “not to just think about becoming an actor”, but to “produce, direct, use iPhones, use everything available to you”.
He also warned: “You’re going to have to put up with the unemployment – you’re gonna have to put up with the rejection – and that’s going to be doubled if you’re from a working-class background or if you’re a minority, etc etc.”
Eccleston said he will “keep banging on” about ACE’s promise to set up a new theatre in Oldham in 2026, and that the money that would have gone to the Coliseum will be given to the council “to fund other arts projects in the area”.
After hearing his interview, social media users heaped praise on the actor for drawing attention to the theatre’s closure, and for stressing the negative effect it will have, not only on the acting profession, but on communities in the surrounding area, who he said used the theatre to come together in an “increasingly polarised” society.
“God bless Christopher Eccleston (on Today), for refusing to offer soothing platitudes about the forgotten north, class and race bias, the Establishment chokehold on the arts, ingrained elitism, you name it. Go get ‘em!” one listener wrote.
Another added: “Great interview with Christopher Eccleston on Radio 4 this morning, finger on the pulse with regard to the North West,” while a third stated: “Utterly agree with how angry #ChristopherEccleston is about the lack of support for working class actors/creatives.”
A fourth fan wrote: “Omg Christopher Eccleston bravo. Bravo bravo. Stand up applause. And now can we put the lens on the publishing industry and privilege.”