Curtain Up at the V & A Museum

The Theatre Museum used to have its own building in Covent Garden, but ever since it was taken over and minimised inside a remote corner of the Victoria & Albert Museum it’s very easy not to know it still exists.

Now, until August, the V & A has expanded the museum space to accommodate an exhibition called Curtain Upcelebrating 40 years of London and New York theatre and  the 40th anniversary of the Olivier Awards.

Curtain Up (vam.ac.uk)

(vam.ac.uk)

Most of the original exhibits are still on view: the costumes, Kylie’s dressing room, the huge Rhinoceros and Joey from War Horse. But now there is much more, including a Curious Incident room, where you can sit in a miniature version of the set with the lights flashing amid that evocative music; extracts from shows such as Matilda and Les Mis; displays of old programmes, letters to and from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office (the censor) requesting changes to be made to plays by Joe Orton and others; and you can listen in on interviews with actors, designers and directors etc on headphones attached to monitors.

Unfortunately, considering theatre is all about sound and vision, much of it is inaudible and/or hard to see. The censors’ letters and old prompt scripts for instance are displayed in understandably dim light, but too far away to read (for my ageing eyes). And the interviews, transmitted through headphones, are virtually inaudible.  The discussion with theatre people from both sides of the Atlantic comparing the influence of critics for instance, which I was particularly interested to hear, was a case in point. (I did ask a lady attendant about this and she said yes, there had been some problems with sound, which they are trying to address.)

Curtain Up (thestage.co.uk)

(thestage.co.uk)

Being an old-fashioned and conventional soul I do still like my museum exhibits to be displayed in chronological order however; or at least to give me an overview of what to me is the most fascinating way that theatre has evolved, and continues to. I acknowledge it’s only covering the last 40 years but I still didn’t get much of a sense of this in the exhibition – changing shapes of theatres for example, and changing audiences and expectations. That said it was a brief visit and I intend going back, when hopefully the sound issue will be resolved (and the schoolkids are back at school – though it’s great to see them enjoying the hands-on exhibits).

The exhibition runs until 31 August 2016 and is free. For more information:
www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/display-curtain-up/

The Institute of Sexology

The Wellcome Collection has changed a tad since I last visited it on the Euston Road here in London. It now boasts a smart new cafe and a book- and gift shop on the ground floor, and exhibitions, including the Institute of Sexology, are upstairs.

The Institute of Sexology

The blurb on their website says:
‘The Institute of Sexology’ is a candid exploration of the most publicly discussed of private acts. Undress your mind and join us to investigate human sexuality at ‘The Institute’, the first of our longer exhibitions. Featuring over 200 objects spanning art, rare archival material, erotica, film and photography, this is the first UK exhibition to bring together the pioneers of the study of sex.
This makes it sound rather more interesting than it is. One of the problems is the exhibits – artefacts, manuscripts, charts and so forth – are so small you have to press your nose right up against the glass to see them, which isn’t easy when it’s crowded. While I’m not a curator and I’m not sure how I’d have done any better, I wanted more of an overview of changing sexual attitudes, both personal and ‘official’, over the centuries. I would have liked to know why for example the ancient Greeks and Romans, and the medieval Indians and Japanese and others, produced so many erotic artefacts and sculptures depicting sex in all its forms, while in more modern times homosexuality was declared illegal and naked statues sometimes had their naughty bits covered up. What does that say about us?
Tiny people doing saucy things in baths (bbc.co.uk)

Tiny people doing saucy things in baths (bbc.co.uk)

There are letters written to Marie Stopes following the publication of her book Married Love expressing outrage and disgust, and delight and gratitude, but no indication what her responses were, if she did respond. There is a strange film featuring the theatre director Neil Bartlett explaining why he was wearing what he was wearing, and what he carried in his briefcase, and what effect he had on the students he was teaching at the time (they seemed to suddenly recognise their homosexuality, their parents too; though I did see the latter half of the film before the beginning, so I may have got the wrong end of the stick); which I think was in reference to ‘Clause 28’ in 1988, which forbade the promotion of homosexuality in education. But I could see no sign of the Kama Sutra, or anything about the Sexual Offences Act, which decriminalised homosexuality in 1967.

Institute Married Love

Still I am grateful to the Wellcome Trust. They helped us towards a workshop on The Human Body many years ago when we were running The Children’s Musical Theatre of London. And they made my kids squeal with delight when, even more years ago, they were able to grab hold of the small intestine of a lifesize dummy and pull and pull until they were almost outside the front door.
The exhibition runs until September 2015 and will evolve throughout the course of the year (says the website), so perhaps it’s worth visiting again, hopefully when it’s less crowded.
http://www.wellcomecollection.org/exhibitions/institute-sexology