Toxic fatberg in museum quarantrine - watch it here

Toxic fatberg in museum quarantrine - watch it here

The last pieces of the “fatberg”, the monstrous agglomeration of sewer waste found by Thames Eater workers under Whitechapel in East London, have become part of the Museum of London’s permanent collection – in quarantine.

Langridge takes on Glyndebourne

Langridge takes on Glyndebourne

Stephen Langridge, a champion of contemporary opera, is the new artistic director of the temple of traditional opera, Glyndebourne.

TaitMail    Hope? Nope

TaitMail Hope? Nope

The Design Museum staff will turn up for work on Monday with a spring in their steps, knowing that the most troublesome exhibition in its short Kensington High Street history, Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18, has ended.

England’s tragic, triumphant and timeless stories

England’s tragic, triumphant and timeless stories

This is the memorial stone for Charlotte Dymond, aged 18 when she was murdered in I844, and a humble waymark in the nation’s story.

Nightingale to tell the story of the 1918 plague that killed more than WWI

Nightingale to tell the story of the 1918 plague that killed more than WWI

Spanish flu, which killed between 50-100m worldwide in 1918-19 is to be the subject of a nine-month exhibition at the Florence Nightingale Museum in London.

Culture in local government cut by 20% since 2011

New figures show rural areas worst affected

Brum museum in three year closure plan

Brum museum in three year closure plan

Major revamp will see new museum centre in Yardley

Arts centre appeals for support

Arts centre appeals for support

The Witham in Barnard Castle needs £30,000

UK government gives £100k to Edinburgh Fringe

Fringe Society on lookout for new HQ

West Yorkshire museums bring in £34 million

West Yorkshire museums bring in £34 million

Museums in West Yorkshire have contributed more than £34m to the regional economy, according to a new report.

Pictures of health

Pictures of health

West Sussex Record Office and Outside In have been awarded a grant from the Wellcome Trust of £46,023 to preserve an archive which offers a rare insight into the use of art therapy as a mental health treatment between 1951 and 1971.  Laura Miles talked to the artist Rachel Johnson, co-ordinator of the project which will see artists with mental health histories help to make the archive accessible  

Musicians already hit by Brexit

Musicians already hit by Brexit

A new report from the Incorporated Society of Musicians shows that players are already being hit by the effects of Brexit, and calls for protection when Britain finally leaves the EU.

MY STORY    Doing dance - and doing it large

MY STORY Doing dance - and doing it large

Amy Dolan will be only the second tour co-ordinator for Dance Consortium since it was set up 18 years ago by a group of 19 large-scale UK theatres to serve their audiences with contemporary dance

New Biennial sculptures – by the kids from Knotty Ash

New Biennial sculptures – by the kids from Knotty Ash

New public sculptures are being created for Liverpool by the children of Knotty Ash Primary School in collaboration with the conceptual artist Ryan Gander.

RA chief stands down

RA chief stands down

Charles Saumarez Smith, secretary and chief executive of the Royal Academy since 2007, is to step down having brought the institution through its biggest development since it moved to Piccadilly in 1868, 100 years after its foundation.

GOOD PRACTICE GUIDE  Keeping the artistic talent exchange flowing

GOOD PRACTICE GUIDE Keeping the artistic talent exchange flowing

This week a House of Lords report called on the government to write the present rules on employing international creative talent in the UK into the Brexit bid, but they are complicated. Here, Anne Morris, MD of the immigration solicitors DavidsonMorris, explains how they work

Bid to bring Titanic artefacts to the UK

Bid to bring Titanic artefacts to the UK

Museums consortium in bid to buy recovered items

Lords warn ‘Culture will suffer without Brexit deal’

Lords warn ‘Culture will suffer without Brexit deal’

A powerful House of Lords committee has warned that culture in this country will suffer if no reciprocal deal on movement is in the Brexit deal.

AI PROFILE Girl gangs of Hoxton

Karena Johnson, artistic director and chief executive of Hoxton Hall

The true but little told story of the Victorian girl gangs of London will open a unique all-female theatre season in one of the last working music halls, celebrating the centenary of women’s suffrage.

Hoxton Hall in East London is to mark the centenary women’s suffrage in 2018 with a season, Female Parts, created and performed entirely by women, devised by the venue’s artistic director, Karena Johnson. It will open on January 20 with Oranges and Elephants, the first musical by the playwright Lil Warren.

Not only is the musical believed to be the first ever to have a wholly female cast, the entire production team, with music by Jo Collins and directed by Susie McKenna, is female – as is this whole three month season. The score follows the music hall genre, complete with a female chair leading the proceedings. 

“We’ve got to 2017 and we still have to make a point to whatever great institution it might be that you’ve announced your new season and there’s not a single woman writer in it” says Johnson. “And people don’t notice the absence of women in things – there’s a strange kind of default to men.


It’s an astonishing fact that most theatre tickets are bought

by women, and they’re buying them to watch men’s stories


“So I wanted the opportunity to say there are amazing creative women and we need to put them out there, not only for their sakes but to make a space for young artists whose role models they can be. It’s an astonishing fact that most theatre tickets are bought by women, and they’re buying them to watch men’s stories.”

Her season, then, is of women telling women’s stories, starting with the musical relating the war between the Forty Elephants of the Elephant & Castle and the Oranges of Stepney, both ruthless gangs of female pocket-pickers and muggers. But there will be stand-up comedy, cabaret, music and a finale of three short plays directed by Johnson herself.

Johnson has another mission, however. It is to bring this unique survival from the heyday of the music hall back into its community with a contemporary audience. “It was built in 1863 by a guy who wanted to create a musical hall for working people behind houses for them to live in, but it was a music hall with a difference - its theme was philanthropy and education, and there was no booze” she says.

It lasted a couple of years when a true music hall impresario bought it and reopened it as MacDonald’s Music Hall attracting audiences twice the size regulations will allow now – in the 1870s there were an estimated 80 music halls in the Hoxton-Shoreditch area alone, she says -  with two balconies on top of which MacDonald wanted to add a third to cram even more in. He was denied planning permission, and after half a dozen years it closed when its licence was not renewed following neighbourhood complaints about noise and bad behaviour.

It was eventually bought by a philanthropist, biscuit heir William Palmer, who turned it into a temperance hall. When he died in 1893 it reverted to the Bedford Institute, a Quaker-run adult education organisation, and it is the Quakers who still own the freehold that have ensured the survival of this extraordinary venue, which now seats just 227.

It became a community centre whose head was still called The Warden, and in the 1970s, was run by May Scott who introduced the arts and performance to her care of local youth. She brought working artists in to teach the kids, one of whom was George Passmore of Gilbert & George. “I taught hooligans in the afternoons and old ladies in the evenings, and by far the more terrifying were the old ladies” he told Johnson recently. In 2015, when she took over as artistic director and chief executive, the Grade II* listed Hoxton Hall reopened after a £2m restoration and refurbishment with generous help from the Heritage Lottery Fund and other trusts and foundations, returning it to its original look complete with high stage, ceiling windows, double balconies and two fireplaces with pier glasses above them.

Karena Johnson is not an East Ender, hailing originally from south of the Thames at Clapham. She got a theatre directing MA at Royal Holloway College and her first job was programming at Oval House in Stockwell, when she also created her own black theatre touring group, Kushite. She went on to run Contact Theatre in Manchester and then artistic director of The Broadway in Barking.

“Quite a journey” she says now. “It was a beautiful building with no audience, the BNP was the official opposition on the council and it was a very political atmosphere. But we built a brilliant programme by developing new plays and embracing entertainment, and attendance grew so that when the council decided to cut funding the people bombarded them and they changed their mind.


When the politics got scary we confronted it through art and by allowing

people who don’t normally speak to each other to occupy the same space


“I felt I'd done my job, because the people now believed it was their place. When the politics got scary we confronted it through art and by allowing people who don’t normally speak to each other to occupy the same space. It was bonkers but it worked.”

At Hoxton, she discovered that for 44 years the hall had been run by women, for no particular reason, but it gave her the idea for her 2018 season. Through the year there are performances, panto, events, and for six days of every week there are well-attended free workshops for seven-to-19-year-olds, with the spring season taking on a theme.

It has not been easy putting together an all-female programme, with designers, lighting and sound engineers being found often by word of mouth. Comedy agents were reluctant to put female comics forward because they felt they wouldn’t be able to fill the hall, until Johnson  tied up with Funny Women which supports and promotes women comics.

Female Parts will continue after Oranges and Elephants with Jazz versus Jukebox featuring poets and musicians; introducing 1930s and 40s lindy hop dancing with Spring Swing; stand-up comedy with Funny Women with which Johnson has recently sealed a partnership for the hall (“they had a try-out here and just fell in love with the place” she says) who will also run a workshop for female comedians; cabaret with Patrizia Paolini’s company; and provocative  comedian Desiree Burch with her solo show Unf*uckable which comes with the strict “Over-18s only” warning.

Johnson will round off the season herself by directing three short lays. The first is a commissioned piece from the award-winning singer, actor and director OneNess Sankara, The Immigrant, which explores the guilt pressures of a successful working mother. The final two are both by Franca Rame and her husband Dario Fo – A Mother is about a woman who discovers from the television news that her son is a terrorist, and The Woman Alone explores how a woman imprisoned by housewifely duties finds means of escape. Johnson believes Rame is an inspiring, witty and thought-provoking voice who, despite his being a left-wing activist, was nevertheless over-shadowed by Fo.

“I hope the season will start to put some of this right, I think it will” Johnson says. “It’s 100 years since the Representation of the People Act gave women the vote, it was such a major moment, but we're still having to fight.

“It’s not that it makes me angry as that it gives me something to kick against, it’s what's interesting about the moment we’re living in. The struggle continues and we’ll be having a debate for young women about political engagement which is being organised by some of our young trainees that come from our community.

“And I hope this season allows more people to discover this amazing place.”



1996 – 1997                         MA Theatre Studies, (Major in theatre directing) at Royal Holloway University of London

1998                       Associate at NOW festival.

1999                       Associate at Nottingham Playhouse

1998 - 2006                          Artistic Director, Kushite Theatre Company (Touring)

1999 - 2000         Associate at Theatre Royal Stratford East,

2000 - 2005         Head of Theatre Programming at Oval House Theatre

2001                                       Directs Under their Influence at Tricycle Theatre and UK tour

2002                                       Directs The Key Game at Riverside Studios 

2003                       Won a Jerwood Young Directors Award.

2004                                       Directs The Oddest Couple at Theatre Royal Stratford East

2005 - 2006         Acting Artistic Director for Contact, Manchester

2006                                       Directs Sweet Yam Kisses at Lyric Hammersmith 

2007                                       Directs Safe at West Yorkshire Playhouse

2009                                       Directs Underneath/ Nothing as Silent as Snow at Black Seas Festival

2009 - 2014         CEO/Artistic Director at The Broadway, Barking

2010                       TMA special award nomination for “theatre with cojones”

2014                                       Directs Forty at Hackney Empire

2015 - present                   Artistic Director & CEO at Hoxton Hall



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