London’s West End and New York’s Broadway have become iconic for the quality of their theatre. The Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington is celebrating 40 years of the Olivier Awards and is marking this with a free exhibition called ‘Curtain Up’.
Hit productions from both cities feature in this remarkable collection of work from Britain and America’s finest plays and musicals.
From the start, the aim is to highlight both the history and the modernity of theatre. A decades-old ‘Shaftesbury Avenue’ sign hangs above viewers, while flashing lights hint at the glamour of the stage.
Intricate costumes from Phantom of the Opera line the hall, with the Phantom’s mask – worn by Michael Crawford – glimmering from a corner. These costumes are accompanied by the designer’s sketches, illustrations and fabric swatches.
Rows of top hats from A Chorus Line surround you as archive footage plays, blasting the score. It has the feel of being in the front row as you watch the performers push themselves to deliver those high kicks and larger-than-life choreography (below is a more recent performance).
Notably, there is a strong emphasis on showcasing the skill behind the scenes: some of my favourites included the set design of Matilda, the flashing set from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and a huge drawing of the mechanics behind the revolving barricade in Les Misérables.
The exhibition runs until Wednesday 31 August in Gallery 104, the V&A. There are free one-hour guided tours each day at 2pm. Make sure you get to see it.