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Revitalised Shoreditch Town Hall hoping to 'make magic'

PUBLISHED: 12:18 07 May 2014

Shoreditch Town Hall director Nick Giles

Shoreditch Town Hall director Nick Giles

Shoreditch Town Hall

It has staged music hall greats, sixties boxing matches and the inquest of Jack the Ripper's last victim Mary Kelly, but now Shoreditch Town Hall is rebuilding itself as a cultural and artistic hub.

Nick Giles took over running the Grade II-listed Victorian vestry hall two years ago following restoration.

He is building it into an arts centre at the heart of vibrant east London.

As well as being a hire venue for weddings and events, the building has held work by acclaimed theatre companies Paines Plough and the Almeida, a collaboration with Crouch End theatre school Mountview and the pan-London Lift festival.

Earlier this year Philip Pullman’s adaptation of Grimm’s fairy tales played in promenade in the basement “Ditch”.

Future events include a tea dance, hula hoop classes with Marawa The Amazing and an art exhibition Out of Our Heads about the brain.

Giles, who has a background in running arts buildings including the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, said: “It went from a heritage project to save this incredible, grand building from the 1860s to taking stock with the question how do we make more of it?”

“We are trying to move it away from a dry hire venue to start to fill the space with activity and arts programming, comedy, and education work, but we are trying to grow sustainably and not too quickly because we don’t have huge resources.”

Progress has included gaining an entertainment licence, a goods lift and £400,000 of capital work including putting seats into the assembly hall.

Other spaces include an upstairs studio area, the old council chamber and adjoining mayor’s parlour that can hold 200 people.

“We want to use the incredible spaces we have, inviting people to come and make magic here,” said Giles.

“The assembly hall was designed as a large capacity audience hall to hold 2,000 people but with the seats it will be more like 800 capacity

“The other music halls, Wilton’s and Hoxton from the 1800s are smaller scale.

“The big old music halls that once thrived around here have all gone except this one, it’s the last remaining purpose built high-capacity music hall in this area.”

Giles promises “a real mix” for audiences with short runs of a “collection of non-traditional theatre work”.

“It’s a perfect location right in the middle of an amazing and diverse, vibrant area – if you were to put it on wheels and move it two miles further up the road, our business plan wouldn’t work,” he adds.

“These are not traditional spaces, so why try to run a traditional programme?

Unpredictable

“I look for off the beaten track, surprising, unpredictable work that will use the spaces to their best advantage.”

Giles has a strong interest in both music and physical theatre and can recall his own sense of wonder at first seeing Complicité and The Wooster Group.

“It was so unlike anything else I had seen. I still remember the feeling I had of excitement how that left me feeling.

“It released something in me and I want to try to give that experience to other people, to put on surprising and different work that changes people in the way that did to me all those years ago.”

The next season starts in September with South African artist Brett Bailey who challenges European racism in Exhibit B.

“I hope to build a sense of trust with our audience and a diversity of what is on offer,” Giles added.

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