Suranne Jones, Sarah Lancashire and Jane Danson – all successful Northern actors and all alumni of Oldham Theatre Workshop.
Launched in 1968 by David Johnson, OTW has been running youth theatre classes and putting on productions with local kids ever since. Now run by James Atherton, it still instils exacting standards and a strong skill set while giving the participants a great time. Today it is based in a building round the corner from Oldham Library, producing one show a year at Oldham Coliseum and several others at its home. In addition, this year the company is staging A Christmas Carol in the tiny but perfectly formed new theatre in Oldham Library.
It’s a great little show – and it has to be little to fit in the theatre which has just 80 seats. But there’s nothing little about the performances, music or the adaptation by Sarah Nelson. The actors are drawn from past and present members of OTW with a guest appearance by Richard Ely as an exceptionally misanthropic Scrooge whose transformation into a generous man brought a tear to my eye.
Nelson has adapted the book relying on elements of Dickens’ commentary as narration, with full dramatisation of the ghosts and all the best bits in what is a fairly adult version. Former OTW members Sophie Ellicott, Sam Glen and Kate Adler divide up the commentary and the main parts and deliver the laughs, terror and sad bits so well it kept the audience of six to 66-year-olds rapt for 90 minutes. Current OTW member Millie Gibson – you might recognise her from Jamie Johnson on CBBC – as well as Noah Valentine, Tom Maycox and Courtney Wood were great as various young persons, and everyone got a big cheer at the end.
But it’s a miracle the show happened at all. They only had a week’s rehearsal (a rep would have at least three) and not enough money to pay the cast for rehearsals and performances. It’s a miracle there’s a theatre in the library too, and Richard Hall who runs it is to be thanked for getting it going. I’ve seen four shows there this year and they’ve all been good.
I could go on to write a lengthy piece about why OTW deserves more money from whatever budget Oldham Council has for keeping kids off the streets and giving them life skills, and why the library theatre space should be better publicised and given more resources. But I won’t. What I will do is suggest you check out live@thelibrary on the Oldham Council website and go and see a show.
By Chris Wallis