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Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0505 HMT
Held at: Royal Holloway, University of London
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Date(s): 1972-1990
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 23 boxes
Name of creator(s): Half Moon Theatre Company
Detailed catalogue: Click here to view repository detailed catalogue


Administrative/Biographical history:

The Half Moon Theatre Company was formed in 1972 when two unemployed actors rented a deserted synagogue in Aldgate, East London, as a cheap place to live and produce plays. The name of the company came from a nearby alley, The Half Moon Passage. The founders, Mike Irving and Maurice Colbourne, and the artistic director, Guy Sprung, wanted to create a rehearsal space with living accommodation, inspired by the sixties alternative society.

The company had its first success with the production of Brecht's "In the Jungle of Cities" in 1972. This was followed by the company taking part in the E1 festival in 1973, which attracted local writers and actors. In 1975 the company set up a Management Council and began receiving an Arts Council of Great Britain (ACGB) subsidy. They also took the decision to form a youth project that became known as the Half Moon Young People's Theatre. By the late 1970s the success of the Half Moon Theatre Company meant that the original site, seating only 80 people, was far too small.

In 1979 a disused chapel that could seat 200 was discovered in Mile End Road. During 1979 it was decided that the chapel was also too small for the audience that the company was attracting. The Architect Bureau was commissioned to do a feasibility study on the construction of a new theatre on a site adjacent to the chapel. The main architect, Florian Beigel, designed a theatre in which there was no fixed seating, thereby allowing plays to be staged in many forms. Robert Walker, the artistic director, was very specific about the purpose and nature of the theatre. He wanted a space in which all members of a community, from primary school children to pensioners, could exhibit work, meet and visit. By the end of 1981 planning permission had been granted and in 1982 the contract was put out to tender. Construction work finally began in 1983 and by 1984 over 1,000,000 had been raised, with ACGB, Greater London Council (GLC), ILEA and Tower Hamlets Council as main sponsors. Chris Bond joined the company as artistic director and the theatre was handed over in December, with the opening production of "Sweeney Todd" in May 1985.

The Half Moon Theatre Company had put on a number of challenging international plays in the 1970s, including several premieres of Steven Berkoff's plays, American musicals and English premieres of works by Dario Fo and Franca Rame. However, by the mid 1980s the Half Moon theatre Company was beginning to lose its popularity. Problems arose with both the financial management and the artistic programme. In the late 1980s the company was using all of its grant form the Greater London Arts Association (GLA) to pay off building debts. This meant that the grant was halved in 1990, as it was not being used for its intended purpose of putting on plays. The theatre was unable to cope with this and closed down in June 1990. Government policy was that arts organisations should be self-supporting through ticket sales and bar takings. However, this went against what the Half Moon Theatre Company was trying to do. They wanted to provide political theatre to those who were on low disposable incomes, which meant keeping ticket prices down. The low income audience and strong political agenda, in turn meant that commercial sponsors were not interested in the theatre. The Half Moon Young People's Theatre remained intact as a separate company and is still performing.


Scope and content/abstract:

The collection consists of member lists and registers; correspondence, notes and publications relating to the building of the new theatre; financial papers relating to loans; financial papers concerning various productions; legal papers relating to the lease of land; applications to the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Greater London Council for funding, including annual reports and accounts; papers and publicity material relating to productions; scripts; programmes and posters for plays; material concerned with the Women's festival of June 1986; publications about fringe theatres and the East End of London; photographs of productions and cast; press cuttings.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Arranged in sections as outlined in the Scope and Content.

Conditions governing access:

Open to all registered users of the College Archives.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copies of open material may be supplied, subject to the condition of the original. Requests to publish original material should be directed to the College Archivist.

Finding aids:

Detailed listing available on automated catalogue, searchable at Royal Holloway.

Archival Information

Archival history:

The records were transferred to Royal Holloway in November 1997 after approaches were made to the company through contacts in the Royal Holloway Drama Department. The collection was stored in the Library for approximately 3 years before being transferred to the Archives.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Royal Holloway Library

Allied Materials

Related material:

The Royal Holloway, University of London Archives also hold material relating to the Gay Sweatshop theatre company.

National Register of Archives: Click here to view NRA record

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Description compiled by Judith Stephenson as part of the RSLP Backstage project.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with general International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
March 2002

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