Curtain Up: Celebrating 40 Years of Theatre in London and New York is a new display at the Victoria and Albert Museum that celebrates the rich creative talents working in London’s West End and Broadway in New York.
The show is a free and immersive theatrical experience that explores the extraordinary range of craft and collaboration that goes into creating award-winning plays, musicals and productions. With the sound of theatre filling the air – from backstage announcements to cast and crews, through interviews with stars and celebrities, to excerpts from shows currently running in the West End, Curtain Up takes visitors from the stage, to the design workshops and through to the red carpet.
On display are objects drawn from the collections of the V&A and The Library for the Performing Arts supplemented with key loans from private collections. Highlights include original costume designs from The Phantom of the Opera by Maria Bjornson (1986), one of the longest running West End musicals, and the longest running Broadway production in history, shown alongside the costume worn by a recent West End Phantom.
There is also a selection of golden top hats from A Chorus Line which won both the Tony Award (1976) and the inaugural Olivier Award (1976) for Best New Musical; a tunic worn by Rudolf Nureyev in Romeo and Juliet which won the Olivier in 1977; and Dame Helen Mirren DBE’s dress designed by Bob Crowley and worn in The Audience, a role which she won both an Olivier (2013) and Tony Award (2015) for Best Actress.
And all of this in an immersive display that shows visitors footage from productions such as Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and A Chorus Line, and includes such iconic wardrobe pieces as Ruthie Henshall’s black lace dress from Chicago and the feathered costume from Matthew Bourne’s radical Swan Lake. There’s even a ballet barre with a wall-length mirror on which to practice your moves.
All of the visuals impress but it’s great to see so much emphasis on many overlooked aspects to theatrical productions. From sound and wardrobe, to music and scriptwriting, Curtain Up demonstrates how an entire company contribute to an award-winning production. I particularly enjoyed seeing sketches of Christopher Oram’s wardrobe design for Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies and dioramas for Matilda.
Though impressive, this is a small display rather than a huge exhibition. With this in mind, it may not be worth making a special journey to see this alone. Instead combine it with a few hours visiting the rest of the V&A’s stunning collection (paintings from Turner and Constable are on show only a few meters away, as is the V&A’s impressive Jewellery collection), or with seeing the big Botticelli exhibition that opens in March.
If nothing else, I hope this dynamic display draws more visitors to the V&A’s fantastic wider Theatre & Performance collection.
Victoria and Albert Museum, London to August 31, 2016
All photos by Victoria Sadler