“It is with great regret that Oldham Coliseum Theatre is cancelling all forthcoming events on Sunday, 26 March 2023, including the Spring-Summer programme and the 2023-24 pantomime Sleeping Beauty”.

It is hard to find the words to describe the sadness that one feels at the killing of a 128-year-old regional theatre by Arts Council England.

The irony is that having attempted to finish off the English National Opera, the Donmar Warehouse and Hampstead Theatre, amongst others, in the name of “levelling up”, the first theatre to bite the dust following the latest funding (or non-funding) round is not in the capital city from which the funding was supposed to be moved but a far from affluent industrial satellite town in the north-west of the country.

While the chief executive of Arts Council England sounded off in The Guardian about the worthiness of brutally cutting off ENO with a view to transporting it to Manchester (though there is a free building in Oldham now which might suit?), he didn’t even have the courtesy to mention the fate of Oldham Coliseum.

The naïve might have expected better in a location that seems to be slap bang in the middle of Boris Johnson’s target for levelling up, the red wall north.

Having said that, the deeply cynical could wonder whether BJ and his successor would ever favour a constituency in which the voters have consistently favoured Labour’s Debbie Abrahams over their own candidates, though judging by her small majority in 2019 it might reasonably have been regarded by the government as a winnable marginal seat.

The decision to close the theatre will have consequences beyond the deprivation of prospective theatregoers as well as the children who would undoubtedly have relished Sleeping Beauty.

In addition, everyone working in the theatre is now going to be unemployed, while other local amenities such as bars, restaurants and shops will lose out on much-needed trade as the recession and cost of living crisis simultaneously bite.

One day, someone behind the scenes might leak the story of why this theatre was sentenced to death, in a move that is hardly likely to brighten the spirits of residents of a town that deserves better. Until then, we can only surmise that it was either a random mistake, a political statement or the result of some kind of vindictiveness resulting from unknown factors.

It will be interesting to see whether Arts Council England feels obliged to comment and, in particular, to discover how they can justify spending significant amounts on such necessary cultural icons as Blackpool Illuminations at the expense of their neighbour on the far side of Lancashire.

There is a dual problem here. First, it is never easy to watch a theatre being closed down, particularly when that is the result of what appears to be a callous funding decision.

Secondly and perhaps even more significantly for the wider theatre world, this could be the thin end of the wedge. There is some irony that having survived the ravages of the pandemic, theatres and jobs are now disappearing as the cultural industry begins to head back towards normality and citizens at a time of crisis feel the need for an uplifting night out.

It is only going to get worse. Many other companies that have been deprived of all funding or seen massive cuts in real terms could well be compelled to follow suit in the coming months. Already, as previously documented in this column, a series of theatres have chosen to dispense with full-time Artistic Directors, in some cases not even replacing them with part-timers, but more jobs will go and more theatres close unless there is a significant change of heart and attitude from both the government and Arts Council England.