From town hall to multiplex conversion
I had promised myself a trip to Greater Manchester’s latest addition for filmgoers. With The Mighty Stalybridge Celtic being away from home, this gave me a good excuse to call in to Oldham’s new ODEON cinema.
There were several reasons why I was more excited about Oldham’s new arrival compared with Ashton’s multiplex in 2004. The town centre position was one: close to The Ashton Arms, the recently reopened TJ Hughes department store, and Oldham’s other delights. Another: being able to return home after a film on the 340 or 343 bus; Ashton Moss Cineworld seems to be off the beaten track (a walk or a quick bus/tram from Ashton bus station).
The third reason was the novelty, of watching a film in a former town hall. Plus the joy of having an overpriced latte a few yards from the town hall steps (where Winston Churchill once stood). Not least the fact that I had had never seen a film in the centre of Oldham. Apart from the Small Cinema, the last mainstream films to have been shown in Oldham town centre were in 1986. That was when the ABC on Union Street reopened in December 1985, using the circle.
Oldham’s previous ODEON showed its last films on the 15 October 1983: Psycho II, Educating Rita, and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. In its twilight years, it was subdivided into three smaller screens (circle as one screen, and the stalls split in half with two screens). It opened in 1908 as the Palace Theatre of Varieties. The Link Centre stands in its place, though with recent spending cuts, the social centre faces closure.
The new Oldham ODEON
The Oldham ODEON cinema is the main occupant of the former town hall. Alongside its seven screens, there is space for six restaurants (one of which is a Nando’s), and a Costa Coffee outlet. Entry to the coffee shop is possible via the town hall steps or the main entrance to the cinema.
In addition to the town hall building itself, there is a glass extension on its western side, facing Town Square Shopping Centre. Filmgoers take the entrance within the glass extension.
What might baffle you on arrival is the lack of a box office desk. As you enter, the first thing you see on the right are automatic ticket machines (debit, credit card, gift card or Limitless cards only). If you wish to pay by cash, you go to the refreshments point on your left hand side. As well as selling the usual hot dogs, popcorn, and sweets, there is also a licensed bar which sells Fosters on draught. Though getting staff to sell cinema tickets at the sweets counter reminded me of Southport station’s M-to-Go idea (an Off-Peak Return to Bolton and a pint of milk), it worked well.
Its seven screens are set across three floors with Screen Three supporting the Real3D and Dolby Atmos systems. The third screen, also billed as iSense, is the main screen for blockbuster releases. There is communal seating areas, which is good for meeting people. Say for example you are sat in one screen watching Allied, whilst another family member is watching Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Them.
The lobby areas are worth exploring itself. Of great interest is the retention of its original tile work, which makes Oldham ODEON a most interesting cinema to visit. Its corridors are stately and well lit. Disabled toilets on the first floor and basement levels are accessible via a lift.
I went to see Fantastic Beasts and How to Find Them. Which for me is a surprising choice, after I saw I, Daniel Blake at HOME Manchester last week. I have never been anywhere near the Harry Potter canon, never read any of the books nor seen any of the films. On seeing a trailer at Cineworld Ashton (prior to The Girl on the Train), I thought ‘this seems good’. So, filed under the category of “I’m not mithered about the plot, it’s the effects that matter”.
So, after a quick Google of the show times, I found Oldham ODEON had the full RealD 3D version on at 1345. “A good time” I thought, it being the same time I saw Ken Loach’s film last week. The 3D version meant the full iSense experience. A difference between sitting in a Pullman carriage compared with standard class on an InterCity 125. More so if you went for the Premier seat I chose. Fourth row in, slap bang in the middle, a fantastic view.
For the Premier seats, this attracted a supplement. Being in an iSense screen, another supplement. 3D, ditto the above. “To hell with the ticket price” I thought, “best see the film at its finest” (only IMAX would have trumped it).
As I thought, Fantastic Beasts didn’t disappoint in the effects department. Stunning effects, enhanced by the bigger screen (almost Cinemascope in dimension?), the Dolby Atmos sound system, and the 3D. As for the film itself, a very good picture in its own right with stand-out performances by Alison Sudol, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, and Eddie Redmayne. Some good storytelling as well. In all, a very good film that would have been lost on your own 52″ television at home.
Would I be going to Oldham ODEON again? Definitely a “yes” from me. Not only due to its central position, but the friendliness. The staff are fantastic. I thought the staff were friendly at Cineworld Ashton, but the people at Oldham ODEON were more so. The Premier seat was comfortable with the leather effect seating more comfortable than I thought. Legroom is impressive, but Cineworld Ashton has more superior legroom and more comfortable seats.
With the newest addition a 340 or 343 ride away, this could be my first cinema of choice. You could skip the Fosters in the cinema in favour of a real ale from The Ashton Arms. Or any of the two ‘Spoons pubs nearby. Plus the town centre, which is a major bonus.
Right, I now have another six screens to try, partly as an excuse to see more of the town hall’s features. That’s supposing there is something worth seeing.
S.V., 26 November 2016.