Big disappointment


The Victoria and Albert Museum

Warning, I may come across as curmudgeonly and miserable in this post. I have good grounds to. I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum today. Especially to visit the Theatre and Performance section. There was a big hoohaar when the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden was closed a while back which the V&A was responsible for. I wasn’t too concerned as I felt that was fairly pants anyway. V&A promised to take their theatre collection and do something special with it at the V&A.

Alas it’s consigned to a few poky rooms, and all I can say is what a WASTED opportunity. The V&A could utilise its other collections to really make this a worthwhile exhibit. However all you get is a very patronising telling of how a theatre production comes together. A few costumes (mainly from very old productions, with the exception of two from The Lion King), some set designs, a video from 1991 about Wind in the Willows at NT (and that’s a very abridged version), a few random posters, a few marionettes and a couple of theatre plans. All this in a dimly lit room. Among the costumes are a few rock stars and bit of rock memorabilia, I suppose that’s the “performance” bit of the sections title.

I’m glad it’s only a donation to get in, as if I’d paid for a ticket I’d have demanded my money back. I really hate to say this, but it just felt like no thought or care had really been made. You have to walk through many other sections of V&A to get to the Theatre and Performance part, they were SO much better – especially the fabulous jewelry section. It’s sad to say that the Theatre section was a damp squib.

The rhinoceros costume from Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros was good to see, but that was best bit for me, bad news is, that’s first thing you see!

So moan, moan, moan, “got any better ideas?”, I hear you cry! Well yes I do! It would be much better to do one theme and use the space to really show off the collection and to also bring in other items from the vast V&A collection. Ideally a couple a year would be good, but if that’s not practical, have a theme a year. Pantomime, Music Hall, Ballet, Opera, Modern Drama, Musicals, Theatre styles from other parts of the world, eg. Noh, Puppets etc. etc. Rather than this dull hotch potch.

The V&A is certainly worth visiting, just not for this section, it’s sad that London is without a museum that shows off its vibrant theatrical history and also wider theatrical history. I’m more saddened that this section of V&A just feels like they don’t care about the theatrical collection they have, that’s the real tragedy.

I’d be interested to know if there are any other theatre museums in the UK (or world) that people would recommend? As I can’t recommend this one at all.


3 thoughts on “Big disappointment

  1. I was really disappointed to read that, especially after all the fuss there was to keep it in London. During the campaign to keep it in its original premises I got the impression that the V&A wasn’t particularly interested in the collection at all, and would quite cheerfully have packed it off to Blackpool which was the main contender for it.

    I used to like the old place, and at least they did have rotating exhibitions there. Have you written to the V&A to complain?

    In answer to your question, no I don’t know of another theatre museum. The RSC has bits and pieces, so there are usually some (unlabelled) costumes in the Colonade, and if you find your way to it there’s an exhibition room upstairs (in the new part) which so far has only exhibited new paintings. The old exhibition room in The Swan (renamed, and I forget what they call it) doesn’t seem to be used for that purpose any more. The Birthplace Trust also sometimes has special exhibitions (they have the RSC archives), but it’s nothing like the scale of the old Theatre Museum.

    I suggest someone gives me loads of money and contact numbers and I’ll find a suitable place on the Shropshire / Midlands border and open one up here!

  2. Anna,

    I agree we need someone to donate lots of money and we can open one up! As much as I dislike Blackpool I don’t care where it is located as long as it does justice to our art.

    I think you’re on the button, the V&A, simply have too vast a collection and the theatre stuff, really isn’t of interest to them.

    When I win the Euro millions I’ll let you know.

  3. (I’m sorry for the mistakes that I could make, but I’m French.)
    I think you are very severe … I agree with you on some points, especially that it is too short and looks a bit neglected compared to other sections of the museum. But the collection has some interesting elements : for someone who likes JM Barrie’s work as I do, the harness used in the first performance of Peter Pan is wonderful, for example! Even if we can still hope that improvements will be made …

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