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Thirty years in Limehouse

In our Community View column in the Docklands and East London Advertiser, Communications Manager Stephen looks back over the last three decades as the theatre celebrates 30 years of being at White Horse Road
Read the Docklands and East London Advertiser e-edition

Thirty years in Limehouse

Half Moon Theatre has been at the heart of the community since 1972, but 30 years ago, on Tuesday 5 July 1994, the curtain was raised on our current home in White Horse Road when the building was officially opened by Cllr Arthur Downes, the then Mayor of Tower Hamlets, and Michael Pickard, chairman of the London Docklands Development Corporation.

Formerly the Limehouse Board of Works, the Victorian building (built in 1862) was first identified as a suitable home in the late 1980s. Following a major £1.3m development, Half Moon moved into the building in 1994 and we finally had a permanent home for our work with -and for – young people.

To begin with, there were no public performances, only workshops and youth Theatre groups, but we continued to tour productions into schools. One of these productions was Wimp!, in 1996, which used a boxing glove as a prop. The same glove has just been used in our latest production, Ten in the Bed!

When the present Director, Chris Elwell, was appointed in 1997, Half Moon went through a radical re-focusing of operations, which was followed by significant increases in core funding from Arts Council England, opening the building as a venue for family audiences in 1998.

The first production by Half Moon in 1998 was Cloud Watching, a play about imagination and experimentation, for ages 8 and under. Devised and written in association with a working scientist, it was inspired by the work of the influential 20th-century optical and acoustic scientist C.V. Raman, and Luke Howard, the Victorian meteorologist and philanthropist.

The future of Half Moon Theatre was secured in 2008 when the company purchased the freehold of the building. In 2012, a three-year £1m programme of works included refurbishing the public areas, repairs to the roof and renovation of the beautiful façade.

But work never stops. More recently, air conditioning was installed in the theatre, LED lights were put up throughout the building and an induction loop was fitted for people who experience hearing loss and use a hearing aid. Plus, work on a brand-new lift was finally finished just last month!

If you’re interested in the history of Half Moon, visit our website stagesofhalfmoon.org.uk. It took 10 months of research, archiving and digitisation, but now provides public access to the theatre’s history.

Stephen Beeny is the Communications Manager at Half Moon

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