Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Final Curtain

Nostalgia is an odd feeling. Sometimes so intense you can understand how it used to be classified a severe medical disease. Luckily, these days we are not as gravely afflicted. Well, except for moments of mental impairment when we start wondering if our ex's Jeffrey Archer-esqe qualities could have been overlooked after all. But that is more dementia than nostalgia.

No, what we are feeling today is that bittersweet longing for things to just stay put simply because endings are rarely happy (despite what they advertise in Chinatown). And so it is, we feel instinctive empathy for the luvvie-ish lamentations this week over the decision to finally close the Victoria & Albert's Theatre Museum in Covent Garden by January 2007. The Museum's future became uncertain when the Heritage Lottery Fund refused to back refurbishment plans. The Museum's collection is expected to be re-absorbed into a permanent exhibition at the V&A in South Kensington. And since the announcement, stage doors lining Shaftesbury Avenue have been filled with huddled masses bewailing the loss of a national museum dedicated to theatre based in the very heart of London's Theatreland.

Does it matter you ask? Isn't theatre all about the live moment not artificial preservation?

On the face of it, the decision to close is no doubt a blow to London's cultural menu. Especially considering London is the theatrical capital of the world (the Mousetrap notwithstanding). And for many theatre exists in the present but grows from the past. Hence the appeal of Museum exhibits such as Sir Lawrence Olivier's costume from Richard III and Noel Coward's make-up box.

Yet to be overtaken by a swell of commiseration considering you didn't even know London had a Theatre Museum, nor can you recall the name of a show pre Mamma Mia? Don't feel ashamed you are joined by large-scale indifference from most of the art world (and a certain wannabe thespian blogger).

It wasn't until a month ago when I attended a Liza Minnelli impersonator concert (as you do) at the Museum that I knew it existed. And as a devotee of Covent Garden's other anorak hangout, London's Transport Museum, I would certainly be in their target audience (if ever there was a case for someone to stay home more). So it was that I was greatly disappointed by what I found on my first and last visit: the trappings of historical theatrical arts displayed underground in artificial light on winding narrow corridors. Like Liza Minnelli's boudoir if she lived with the Addams Family. The act of visiting there sadly not relevant to those who want to go to a good museum, or to those who want to learn more about London's Theatreland.

So we will bid 'So long, Farewell' Theatre Museum. Just be sure to leave behind the West End shows when you leave the West End. We can only hope they find you better digs on Exhibition Road. Because in theatre, as in life, there is always hope reserved for the second act.

For a real inside view to the performing arts across the capital:
Check out the Open Rehearsal Festival this weekend when major venues including the Globe Theatre, Royal Albert Hall, English National Opera, the Barbican and the South Bank Centre open their doors to the public for three days of free, behind the scenes events.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Dave, a script writer said...

Lovely ode CS but would have to disagree. The impending closure as it reaches its 20th year is devastating news. A reminder that as much as the English have a genius for making theatre, they have little desire to celebrate it.

6:32 pm  
Anonymous Anna said...

As a journalist who has done many interviews with writers and directors of the Theatre Museum for its video archive I too am gutted. It is a vital resource and a testament to all the effort and talent put into theatre in Britain.

Does it matter? Yes
Does it need to be in Covent Garden? Yes
Are the Arts Council and Lottery Funders nasty greedy pigs? Yes

6:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

20,000 schoolchildren visit there every year - does that not demonstrate a purpose??

6:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Much happier to see it move across town and locate with the other museums.
No reason that it needs to be in geographic proximity to the West End theatres.

Onwards and upwards

7:51 pm  
Blogger City Slicker said...

An update to the story from late today here

7:56 pm  
Anonymous Keith said...

I just spent this past Saturday touring the Theatre Museum which has an overwhelming collection of costumes, papers and memorabilia. The exhibit on the Redgraves was mind-blowing and exciting to see. I have always referred to the Redgraves as Theatre Royalty and when you uncover their lineage this is an understatement! I'm a fan. Besides the special exhibits, the Theatre Museum has an actual copy of the Patent given to Killigrew for the Kings Company of Players by Charles II.

Too sad to see it go.
Someone stop it!

7:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

open rehearsal is put on by the mayor's office is heavily funded and should be a fantastic weekend of events.
we do wonder however if some of that money could have gone to the save the theatre museum campaign?

8:21 am  
Anonymous Claire said...

The museum has many famous actors and actresses supporting it including Dame Judi Dench and Vanessa Redgrave.
I am shocked they did not have more pulling power to stop this travesty.

10:42 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

checked this out yesterday
thought was brilliant little hovel for luvvies
so sad indeed it is packing up

5:26 pm  
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