Christopher Eccleston: it would be impossible for me to become an actor today
Christopher Eccleston has said it would be impossible for him to become an actor in today’s world, in an impassioned interview after the closure of Oldham’s Coliseum theatre.
The British actor spoke about how the closure of the historic theatre would affect the acting community and people from working-class backgrounds.
Oldham Coliseum shut its doors on Friday after a failed campaign to save the venue, making it the biggest theatre outside London to lose its Arts Council England funding from April, a subsidy of £1.8m over three years.
ACE has said it will invest £1.85m in the borough instead and Oldham council recently announced plans for a new theatre, reportedly costing £24m, which is scheduled to open in 2026.
Related: Last night at Oldham Coliseum: a joyful, funny and furious farewell
The Coliseum was a training ground for a host of stars – from Bernard Cribbins, who joined at 14 and stayed for seven years, to Coronation Street’s Jean Alexander (Hilda Ogden), Barbara Knox (Rita Sullivan) and William Roache (Ken Barlow). Others who performed there include Happy Valley’s Sarah Lancashire, and Doctor Foster’s Suranne Jones.
Eccleston, who grew up in Salford, participated in a closing event at the theatre on Friday night alongside 20 actors, including Maxine Peake, who all paid tribute to the venue that Eccleston described as a “beacon” for actors in the Greater Manchester region.
“The Oldham Coliseum is about 15 miles from where I was born and brought up. 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 told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday.
“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 and Our Friends in the North, continued: “If you grow up in the north-west, you don’t feel culture and the arts belong to you. You don’t believe if you come from a council estate you can be an actor, a poet or a painter.
“Maxine, like me, wouldn’t be an actor without places like the Oldham Coliseum … Like me, I think it’s fair to say, she didn’t really feel she belonged in the arts.
“It’s not just what Oldham Coliseum does on its stages. They’ve done various community projects with the south Indian population that’s well-established in Oldham, and the Roma community. Theatres end up being community centres – places where people can meet and mingle and exchange differences. Society is becoming increasingly polarised, and there is increasing division, and theatres fight against that.”
Eccleston reflected on his start in the industry and why he felt it would be “impossible” for people from a working-class background to enter acting today: “I had no qualifications … Acting is not an academic pursuit. It’s a pursuit of the heart and the gut. You don’t need to have gone to Oxbridge or public school. What you need is imagination and emotion and passion.”
He 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, ethnic minority etc.”
Eccleston said he would “keep banging on” about the promise of a new theatre in Oldham.
Social media users praised Eccleston for drawing attention to the closure and stressing the negative effect it could have.
“God bless Christopher Eccleston 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 said: “Great interview with Christopher Eccleston on Radio 4 this morning, finger on the pulse with regard to the north-west,” while one wrote: “Utterly agree with how angry #ChristopherEccleston is about the lack of support for working class actors/creatives.”
One fan wrote: “Christopher Eccleston’s eloquence and complete grasp of the problems facing actors and theatre today has made turning on #r4today worthwhile this morning. Absolutely top man.”