8 November 2013

Dipping into theatrics at the V&A

After enjoying the excellent Tomorrow: Elmgreen & Dragset exhibition at the V&A I had an hour or so to spare and I went back into the bowels of the museum to see what else I could find.

The first thing to make an impact was the cascading light just inside the main entrance on Cromwell Road. This was a strange twin to the one just a little further inside that has hung above the reception desk for years.



Somehow I found myself in the Theatre and Performance area on the 3rd floor. Somehow I had never been in that section of the museum before. I think that I got close to it once but it was closed.

As elsewhere in the museum , the objects were quirky and well presented.

One room had theatrical costumes and a make-up area where visitors could try things on. I was too busy with the exhibits but a small group of visitors were having a lot of fun there taking lots of photos of each other.

I much preferred Room 104b: Designing which had lots of drawings and mock-ups of theatre sets. These, and the explanations that went with them, gave a good insight in to the thinking that goes in to designing a set.

Many of them were pretty in their own right, without having to imagine a performance in them, such as this one that is obviously by John Piper. Sadly it is not in the V&A Collections database (or my search skills are not up to the task) and I cannot recall which show it was for other than it was one that I had seen (not that that helps very much).

I know that I did not know the show which the next set design was for and it got selected just because I liked the way that the mix of props and painting created the illusion of a large field full of ripe crops.



There were quite a few model sets on display and I liked a lot of them, far too many to include here.

I recognised this set instantly, it is from Long Day's Journey into Night and it looked almost exactly (perhaps it was exactly) as when I saw the play last year.

The next room had a collection of posters on the wall. These were as eclectic as you would expect from the V&A and they included posters for Doyly Carte, Sex Pistols, Cinderella with Rolf Harris, Ballet Rambert and, poignantly, Lou Reed.

The poster for The London Ballet amused me because it boasted review comments that included, "Pretty in the extreme", "Very charming" and "Very attractive". Now we expect to be extorted to sell our children's organs to get a ticket for the best shows.

And then there was the rhino.

It was there because it was a theatrical prop though, as with much in the exhibition, for a play I had not heard of, much less seen. I suspect that much of the stuff in the collection was donated by theatres that would otherwise have thrown them away so giving it that cosy feel of jumble.



Behind the rhino is a display cabinet showing more oddities.The image from Les Miserables is familiar enough and it is easy to understand why it is there. Beneath it is a signed copy of one of the Beatles' Christmas singles. It is the surprising juxtapositions like that which make the V&A so interesting.

Every visit to the V&A is an adventure, an instruction and a pleasure.

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