Examining the art of theatre and the collaborative talent that goes into creating award-winning plays, musicals and other productions, Curtain Up traces four decades of productions in London and New York. The new, free exhibition tells theatrical stories through objects, of the backstage crafts, disciplines and professions including costume, set, props, sound, lighting, direction, script-writing and more.
Visitors can get up close to iconic pieces and other intriguing treasures drawn from the collections at the V&A (and the former Theatre Museum in Covent Garden) and the New York Public Library for Performing Arts, who co-curated the exhibition.
Not only does the show offer the chance to view many largely unseen items, but it reminds us of the often hard to preserve nature of this type of ephemera. For example, a delicate piece of theatrical history written on a napkin from 1980 reveals suggestions in a letter from Ian McKellen to his understudy about the role of Salieri in Amadeus.
Other highlights include the embellished dress worn by Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth in Peter Morgan’s The Audience; the much-loved Joey puppet from War Horse; a line of glittering golden top hats from the original 1967 production of A Chorus Line; a beautiful graphic poster from 1928 of the London Underground’s Guide to Theatreland; and several incredibly detailed scale set models including one from the 1992 production of An Inspector Calls and another from the current Matilda musical. A wealth of other drawings, posters, programs, and production items offer further exploration into the process behind some of the most well-known productions of the last few decades.
The design of the exhibition itself aims to immerse visitors into a theatrical world with a soundscape of songs and backstage voices giving technical direction, and large-scale graphics across walls and floors including ‘theatreland’ maps and building outlines. There are several interactive elements including a sound design booth and coloured lighting faders, and a showstopper video and projection room recreating part of the award-winning set from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Museum curators collaborated with RFK Architects and acclaimed theatre designer, Tom Piper, known for his work with the RSC and the poppy installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London last year with Peter Cummings.
Whilst giving anyone with an interest in theatre a peek into the skills and talent to be found in two of the cultural capitals of the world, the hope is that the exhibition and the events running alongside will capture imagination and inspire new generations of theatre professionals.
“The thing that is very personal to me and very personal to the Society of London Theatre is that we hope something like this inspires young people for the future. We want and we need people from all different backgrounds to come into this great industry,” said Julian Bird chief exec of the Society of London Theatre and producer of the Olivier Awards speaking at the exhibition opening.“I hope that there will be someone standing here in another 40 years time talking about the great people who’ve now worked in what will be the 40 years hence.”
Curtain up runs until 31 August 2016, at the V&A London