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Curtain Up Exhibition at the V&A Museum
Since the closure of the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden, London has certainly been lacking a dedicated theatrical shrine for people to pay homage to the theatre industry aside from the productions themselves. The V&A who absorbed the Theatre Museum have a Theatre and Performance section as part of their wider collections, but despite holding some gems it often gets overlooked amongst the venue's wider and more publicised permanent and temporary exhibitions.
Curtain Up is a new exhibition and a joint collaboration between the V&A and The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, where it will be on display from October 2016, and is part of a year-long programme of activity organised by SOLT (Society of London Theatre) to celebrate 40 years of the Olivier Awards. Designed by RFK Architects and Tim Piper, the designer behind the Tower of London's poppies installation, the exhibition brings together costumes, models, design and archival footage of a wide range of West End and Broadway productions from over the past forty years.
Speaking at today's launch, Julian Bird the Chief Exec. of SOLT spoke about the importance of the exhibition, not just showing off an industry which last year attracted 14.5 million audience members in London and 13 million on Broadway, but about inspiring a new generation of theatre makers “from all backgrounds” to continue the work that features on display. Unlike the other elements of the V&A Theatre collection, Curtain Up heavily features theatre makers and those behind the scenes, rather than the actors and performers themselves.
From costume drawings and sketches, to set model boxes of productions such as War Horse, An Inspector Calls and Matilda, the exhibition places designers at its centre, and gives viewers a truly behind the scenes look at the theatre industry in both London and New York.
Focusing primarily on Olivier and Tony Award-winning productions, theatre fans have the opportunity to get up close and personal with items of costume as diverse as Helen Mirren's Queen Elizabeth II dress worn in the New York and London productions of The Audience to Chita Rivera's dress from the recent Broadway production of Kander and Ebb's The Visit as well as iconic costumes from Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake and Maria Bjornson's designs for The Phantom of the Opera including Michael Crawford's original Phantom mask.
Where the exhibition excels is through its careful blending of the minutia with the more main-stream pieces. More casual theatre fans will recognise and enjoy pieces from popular stage productions such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Matilda, whilst theatre buffs will enjoy pouring over the budgets for the West End and Broadway productions of Evita, along with a letter from Hal Prince to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice regarding his initial thoughts on the show, which included his calls to 'excise' the song “Dangerous Jade” as well as the references to Lauren Becall in the song “Rainbow High”.
Tying in with the 40th Anniversary of the Olivier Awards and the 70th Anniversary of the Tony Awards is the 40th Anniversary of Broadway's longest running American musical A Chorus Line, a show that is well represented with Theoni V. Aldredge's top hats from the original production along with Tharon Musser's light diagram, in particular her bespoke travel case for the automated lighting board – the first of its kind to be used on Broadway.
The awards themselves are represented in a cabinet that shows the development of both the Tony and Olivier's from their original inception to their now recognisable size and shapes. Of particular interest is the Wedgwood Urn that was the first Olivier Award in 1976, and is on loan to the exhibition from actress Penelope Keith.
There is strong balance between musicals and plays represented with gems including a letter from Ian McKellen to his understudy written on a napkin and set models from Tom Stoppard's Arcadia at the Lincoln Center and Ian MacNeil's now iconic stage design for Priestley's An Inspector Calls. The exhibition concludes with a stunning recreation of Bunny Christie's multi-award winning set for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which lets viewers experience what it feels like to stand centre stage on the kinetic and electronic set. This section will certainly delight younger theatre fans, and will hopefully show the contrast between what can be achieved visually on the stage. Other fantastic interactive elements include a live operated sound board that allows you to control the music via an iPad, giving insight into the work of a sound designer on a large scale musical.
It is hoped that this exhibition will appeal to theatregoers, in particular young people who SOLT aim to inspire by showing the variety of skills that exist within this country and all the different trades that come together to create a show.
Curtain Up is a free exhibition that runs at the V&A Museum in South Kensington from Tuesday 9th February to 31 August 2016. The display will then tour to The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center from 19 October 2016 to June 2017.