September can’t come around quick enough as we will be able to see the fruits of Hoxton Hall’s recent £2m refurbishment. Artistic Director Karena Johnson tells us more about a theatre great that looks reborn

Without realising it, I am typical visitor to Hoxton Hall. It’s been a little while I have to admit since I last graced the wonderful Victorian theatre and, when asked by current Artistic Director Karena Johnson what I saw, the mind clouds over. ‘In this job I work with a lot of people in the arts and they say “wow, that’s such a lovely space, but I can’t remember what I saw there”,’ Karena attempts to put me at ease. ‘Generally it’s really appreciated, but I have a real desire for it to reach its potential as a performing space.’

My special guided tour is down to the fact Hoxton Hall has just undergone a £2m refurbishment to restore it to its former glory. An East End landmark since 1863, its intimate feel is certainly obvious even in an empty space. ‘The geography of it means you can participate,’ Karena smiles. ‘You can’t just sit in the dark, you can see your fellow audience members’ reactions. That’s also exciting for the performers, that element of audience interaction and breaking down that barrier.’

Karena herself has only been in the Artistic Director position since February of this year and it’s clear she is relishing the challenge that lies ahead. ‘Throughout my career I have been interested in places and their relationship to the arts, creating spaces that feel a part of a neighbourhood,’ she explains the lure of the job. ‘In this area you have some of the poorest parts of London, but also some of the richest, so that’s a really interesting challenge, to create things that bring people together and that’s deserving of this amazing building.’

The solution, it seems, is ‘contemporary variety’. I arrived a little non-plussed about what that entails, but looking at the refurbished Hoxton Hall’s opening season, it all becomes oh so clear. It all begins, rather aptly, with Raising The Curtain on 17 September in partnership with Secret Cinema – and, as such, remains a secret as to what will be staged. It’s followed on 29 September by Rockston Stories, which reflects the splintered, chaotic and at times absurdly comic world of people who have been affected by addiction, chemical or otherwise. The fact it’s directed by Susie Miller, with theatre giant Mark Rylance as associate director, suggests this will be unmissable.

Opening on 1 October is, for me, the most intriguing part of the autumn season. A Collection of Small Choices is a groundbreaking app designed by Hannah Bruce where, using your smartphone or tablet, you can go on an intimate journey of discovery through the hidden spaces of Hoxton Hall. It will be an immersive encounter with place and history for one or two visitors at a time and sounds truly special.

Looking further ahead and you can see the variety kick in. Madame Moriarty’s Merry-Go-Round on 25 October will feature an evening of comedic curiosities; the one and only Paul Daniels brings his intimate magic show to Hoxton Hall on 5-7 November; Back II LIVE on 14 November will bring together some of London’s progressive talents to create a magical night of music, spoken word, comedy and storytelling; Alex Horne, one of the UK’s most original comics, takes over on 27-28 November; and Karena gets in on the act herself, directing Hoxton Hall’s first ever panto, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which opens on 19 December.

‘This is a variety space,’ Karena says once we have breathlessly gone through the events to come. ‘It can be as various as you want it to be. You may be watching a bill where you see something you like, followed by something you are not too sure about, but then five minutes later you are watching something else entirely. The group of people we are talking to are very different, but the arts are a great way to find some common ground between them.’ What’s a certainty is that people will no longer forget what they saw at Hoxton Hall.

Words: Mark Kebble

Hoxton Hall, 130 Hoxton Street N1 6SH; 020 7684 0060; hoxtonhall.co.uk

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