Burnley actress joins battle to save Empire Theatre

Actress Caroline O'Hara

Actress Caroline O'Hara

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A Burnley-born actress has joined fellow local thespian Alice Barry in calling for someone to breathe new life into a forgotten old theatre.

Caroline O’Hara, currently starring in a Warburton’s television advert alongside Hollywood heavyweight Sylvester Stallone, has added her voice to calls to save the late-Victorian Empire Theatre in Burnley.

Empire Theatre

Empire Theatre

The Burnley Express has run a number of articles in the last year in which “Shameless” actress Alice Barry has highlighted the plight of the long-empty theatre in Lower St James’s Street.

Caroline said: “I agree wholeheartedly with Alice that this theatre should be saved. It is a beautiful old building which could be a real asset to the town if it can be renovated.

“I do a lot of theatre work in America and I can tell you they have very few old theatres there.

“One old one I have performed in is The American Theatre in Virginia which was built in 1908. After being abandoned, it was restored in 1998 at a cost of $2.9m. It is the jewel in the crown of the town and brings in over 50 shows a year from around the world.

This could be a hidden treasure that people would come to see from miles around. It’s something to be proud of

Caroline O’Hara

“We are really lucky to have the Empire on our doorstep in Burnley, and a similar situation could emerge here.”

Caroline, who attended Habergham High School, moved to London when she was 17 to attend the prestigious Webber Douglas Drama School whose alumni include Hugh Bonneville, Terence Stamp, Steven Berkoff and Angela Lansbury.

Her parents, grocers John and Christine, still live in Burnley, and used to run the Spar shop in Manchester Road.

Caroline added: “Instead of allowing the Empire to rot, shouldn’t a decision be made as to whether the building is worth saving?

“Can it be restored, how much would it cost, and do the people of Burnley want a 19th Century theatre in their town?

“If it isn’t worth saving, why is it still standing if it is dangerous? It’s been the fourth on The Theatre Trusts at risk register for six years.

“An urban explorer went inside two years ago and reported that water damage had destroyed the top circle and some stairways but the rest is salvageable and even has the original plasterboard and paint on it.

“My personal feeling is that if the theatre has lasted since 1894, why is this the time to throw it away?

“This could be a hidden treasure that people would come to see from miles around. It’s something to be proud of.”

Caroline’s own acting career started at Basics Junior Theatre School when she was nine-years-old.

But it was a trip to a Take That concert that led to her being spotted by an employee of the band’s manager, Nigel Martin Smith, that led to her first career in modelling.

“My modelling career didn’t last long but it led to acting roles in several television shows and a play starring alongside Jeremy Irons.”

Caroline is now working on projects for her own theatre and production company, Smudged Film.