In 2007 the sad demise of Britain’s only national museum for the performing arts – the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden, London – left a gaping hole in celebrating the UK’s heritage in culture and performance.
This Wednesday that sad state of affairs is to be redressed with the opening of the new Theatre and Performance galleries at the V&A museum in London.
Promising to be the largest of their kind in the world, the space will explore the whole process of performance – from conception through to design, rehearsal and development and an audience’s reaction. More than 250 objects from the V&A’s collections will be on display including costumes, set models, stage props, original posters and playbills, theatrical prints, paintings, and photographs.
There is a particular emphasis on costume design, with collections including Maria Bjornson’s design for Michael Crawford as the Phantom of the Opera, costumes worn by Richard Burton as Henry V, and a mind-boggling amount of fabulous gowns, hats and shoes including the original tutu worn by Margot Fonteyn in Swan Lake in 1964 and Kylie Minogue’s props from her Showgirl tour of 2007.
Other exhibits include pages from the first folio of Shakespeare’s plays (1623), the only Handel promptbook in existence dating from his lifetime (1720) , a draft manuscript from Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal (1777), and a digitised version of the original score for Jesus Christ Superstar. There is also an account book for the 1895 production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, which shows how successful the play was at the box office until Wilde’s arrest. Also the human skull signed by the cast of Richard Eyre’s 1980 production of Hamlet at the Royal Court theatre in London, and a wire and leather horse’s head from the original production of Equus at the Old Vic in London.
The gallery has been designed by Line Lund from the V&A’s Design Department.
Plans for next year include a major exhibition on Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes to celebrate the centenary of the company’s creation.
Admission to the Theatre and Performance Galleries is free. For further information see: http://www.vam.ac.uk/collections/theatre_performance/