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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA

Great news! Coliseum welcomes audiences back with innovative Covid-safe Virtual Reality theatre

On Friday 20 and Saturday 21 November Oldham Coliseum Theatre invites audiences back into the historic building for a brand-new experience: 360° live-action and animated virtual reality show PETRICHOR, by Manchester’s ThickSkin.

PETRICHOR will be presented socially distanced in the Coliseum’s 550-seat main auditorium, with a maximum capacity of 20 people per performance, all sat separately and arriving no more than 15 minutes before their performance start time. The production will be viewed on VR headsets which will be made medical-grade safe before each use.

This will be one of the first opportunities for audiences to re-enter the Coliseum and enjoy the collective experience of attending the theatre in a new, Covid-safe way since the theatre’s closure on 16 March.

Coliseum Artistic Director Chris Lawson said: “In the past six months we’ve been simultaneously working to plan how and when we can welcome audiences back into the Coliseum safely and producing and sharing work in new ways online. These in-theatre performances of PETRICHOR bridge the two perfectly, welcoming our audiences back safely for a new digital experience. We held our first Virtual Reality experience at the Coliseum in 2019 as part of our annual Cultivate Festival (with just one audience member per performance) and it proved very popular. Our intimate auditorium always gives audiences the feeling of being close to the action but with a VR headset every seat is a front row seat.”

PETRICHOR combines movement, sound, pace and tension to create a truly immersive, edge-of-your-seat experience. It is a story set in a parallel universe, exploring escape and connection; featuring two performers, an original soundtrack and projected animation, mixing the language of theatre, gaming, cinema and virtual reality.

‘This is a new beginning, a clean slate, a second chance. You are an important part of this machine and that’s all you need to think about…’

Step into a new world. A world where every single day is exactly the same. PETRICHOR is a dystopian reality where every moment is muted, managed and monochrome. Nothing bad ever happens. Nothing good does either. Excitement and happiness have been traded for a world without pain and suffering. A chance meeting brings two unlikely individuals together and offers a small glimpse of what life could be. Their newfound connection sends ripples through this ordered world. They begin to question every decision, every step and every thought they’ve ever had. Could there be something more than this?

PETRICHOR is created by ThickSkin’s Associate Artistic Director Jonnie Riordan, with co-director Jess Williams and animator Ben Walden. It is part of ThickSkin’s new series of MATCHBOX productions which aims to engage a range of audiences with theatre, including young people and non-traditional audiences.

ThickSkin’s Artistic Director Neil Bettles said: “Our MATCHBOX productions are the ideal opportunity for us to experiment and find new ways of creating. I want ThickSkin to be innovative in the way we connect with audiences, and creating a piece that can be accessed in lots of different ways feels like an exciting response to these uncertain times.”

ThickSkin is an award-winning touring theatre company of international acclaim. The company creates bold and ambitious theatre; reaching and inspiring young, new and representative audiences across the world through a distinctive physicality and cinematic style. Nurturing talent across all areas of theatre-making, ThickSkin’s work provides a springboard for artists who are ready to take a leap.

PETRICHOR is a MATCHBOX production for ThickSkin. Supported by Arts Council England, Backstage Trust, November Productions, Oculus and Waterside Arts & Creative Industries Trafford. Developed with support from Lawrence Batley Theatre, Tron Theatre and Glasgow Life.

Recommended for ages 13+ and above.

Trigger warning: Please note that PETRICHOR includes flashing images.

Elsewhere in Greater Manchester there is also the opportunity to access PETRICHOR online with The Lowry from Monday 26 October – Sunday 1 November.

Production information:


A MATCHBOX production by ThickSkin

Created by: Jonnie Riordan, Jess Williams and Ben Walden

Cast: Dominic Coffey (Dominic trained at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance. He has toured internationally and works with Jasmin Vardimon Dance Company as an educator), and Ayesha Fazal (Ayesha trained at Falmouth University and has performed at Groundwork, Boomtown and Fledge festivals. She is the founder of dance company, Company Nexus)

Direction & Choreography: Jonnie Riordan (Director, Nigel Slater’s Toast , West End; Associate Director, Things I Know to be True, Frantic Assembly) and Jess Williams (Associate Director, The Unreturning , Frantic Assembly; Associate Movement Director, Wonderland , Nottingham Playhouse)

Animation: Ben Walden (Ben has worked on video in theatre for over 10 years, also working on short films, music videos, short stories and film photography. His most recent projects were a hand-painted music video that is currently being accepted to international film festivals, and a cut-out animation shot on Super8 film that was chosen for Straight8’s Cannes Selection).

Music and Sound Design: Neil Bettles (ThickSkin Co-founder and Artistic Director; International Associate Movement Director, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, International; Associate Movement Director, Heisenberg, West End)

Editor/Visual Effects: Jim Dawson for TripleDotMakers (Jim is Co-Director of TripleDotMakers, a moving image and sound studio working across the music industry, theatres, museums and galleries. Their work often uses participatory practice, engaging local communities in the creation, curation and installation of work. They have created work with the BBC, Royal Exchange Theatre, the National Trust and the Whitworth Art Gallery)

VR Photography: Keith Myers (Keith is a creative leader, project manager, filmmaker and AR/VR developer. He specialises in virtual reality, 360° film production and interactive film)

Photography: Ray Chan (Ray has been a photographer for over 20 years and has a wealth of experience in commercial, fashion, sports, and portraiture. Recent clients include Manchester International Festival, The Whitworth Gallery, Proper Magazine and Fanatics)

Executive Producer: Laura Mallows (ThickSkin Co-founder and Executive Director. Has previously worked with Frantic Assembly, Hofesh Shechter, Clean Break and Manchester International Festival)

Producer: Steph Connell (ThickSkin Producer. Has previously worked for Artichoke, National Theatre of Scotland, Greenwich + Docklands International Festival and the Tron Theatre)

Production Manager: Hannah Blamire (Hannah’s credits include Harrogate, HighTide/Royal Court; Adam Buxton and Friends, MIF; and The Roof, Fuel).

Oldham Coliseum Theatre

The Coliseum is a cultural and educational charity that works with over 150,000 individuals per year.

The Coliseum has a rich history in Greater Manchester dating back to 1885. It provides a wide variety of distinctive theatre performances and participatory activities for people from all communities in Oldham, Greater Manchester and beyond. It creates original productions each year which are presented at the Coliseum and on tour. Intrinsic to the town’s on-going regeneration, the theatre works with its local communities and young people to develop creative programmes to facilitate learning, engagement and community cohesion.

Twitter @OldhamColiseum

Facebook /oldhamcoliseumtheatre

Instagram @OldhamColiseum


ThickSkin is a Manchester-based theatre company that creates bold and ambitious theatre; reaching and inspiring young, new and representative audiences through a distinctive physicality and cinematic style. Their work draws on many styles to create visceral and multi-layered performances that tell stories in new and inspiring ways. From mid-scale touring productions to 360° immersive VR experiences, they create work that is rooted in contemporary culture.

The company was established in 2010 by co-Directors, Neil Bettles and Laura Mallows. Over the last decade, the company has strived to create space for under-represented voices to be heard and celebrated in theatre. Their 2019 production How Not To Drown by Nicola McCartney & Dritan Kastrati, co-produced with Traverse Theatre, premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2019 struck an emotional chord with audiences, won two major industry awards and was presented in the prestigious Made in Scotland International Showcase, receiving critical acclaim. Now more than ever, young and diverse artists and audiences can help shape a bright future for the arts.

ThickSkin is committed to supporting young people and early-career artists through education, training and employment in the arts. They work hard to reach new audiences through their work and especially young people who have fewer opportunities to access the arts.

“Truly stunning” - ★★★★★ The Scotsman on How Not To Drown

“Technically daring and breathlessly orchestrated” - ★★★★ Metro on The Static

“ThickSkin Theatre has a hard-earned reputation for developing new talent” - The List

ThickSkin’s new MATCHBOX programme emerged from their desire to make theatre accessible and exciting for young people and non-traditional audiences.

MATCHBOX is an innovative new strand of work by ThickSkin, using digital theatre to spark enthusiasm for the arts. MATCHBOX projects are curated and produced by ThickSkin in a way which celebrates experimentation and new work by early career artists. Using Theatre-in-VR, MATCHBOX can deliver theatre experiences directly to community settings as well as inviting those communities into their local theatre.

Twitter @ThickSkinTweets

Facebook /thickskintheatre

Instagram @thickskintheatre

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