Theatre Museum Shuts Doors for Good This SundayDate: 5 January 2007
After 20 years at its premises in Russell Street, Covent Garden, and despite growing industry and public protest, the Theatre Museum (pictured) will close its doors for good this Sunday 7 January 2007.
The Theatre Museum, a subsidiary of the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington, has been under serious threat since last spring when the Heritage Lottery Fund turned down two grant applications from the V&A for redevelopment (See News, 28 Mar 2006). A proposal to pool resources with the nearby Royal Opera House offered a lifeline but when those plans fell through in the autumn, the January closure was set (See News, 25 Sep 2006).
According to the V&A, the Theatre Museum - which hosts an archive of valuable historic theatre memorabilia and, more recently, stage productions in its studio space - will “live on” by undertaking touring displays, while some of the content will be housed in a new gallery at the V&A’s main premises in South Kensington, although no timeframe has been set for this. The V&A has also commenced a feasibility study with Blackpool Council to move the museum’s archives to a more permanent base in the northwest (See The Goss, 6 Dec 2006), though this suggestion has been greeted with dismay by many in London’s Theatreland.
At the time of the dissolution of the Opera House proposal, ROH chief executive Tony Hall commented: “Though there has been a huge amount of moral support for the Theatre Museum, money for the most part has not been forthcoming. From the beginning, we had always seen this as being a joint venture between ourselves, the V&A and any number of others from the theatre world. We did not want it to be a Theatre Museum dominated by the Royal Opera House. Unfortunately, we have not been able to find those other collaborators. In addition, working with the V&A team over the past few months, it has been clear that the capital costs to freshen up the building and give it a new lease of life are much higher than originally thought.”
V&A director Mark Jones added: “Both the V&A and the Royal Opera House had high hopes that together and with partners we could establish a new centre in Covent Garden. Sadly, the support we need has not been forthcoming…. The V&A recognises the disappointment this announcement will cause, particularly to those in the theatrical community who would like the Theatre Museum to remain in Covent Garden. However, we remain totally committed to safeguarding and displaying these collections which celebrate Britain’s unique theatrical heritage in costume and stage design.”
Since that announcement, Save London’s Theatres Campaign and the Society for Theatre Research have set up a separate body, Guardians of the Theatre Museum, to try to prevent the museum’s closure and suggest other alternatives. More than 12,000 individuals have joined the Guardians’ petition to date. Council members included Cameron Mackintosh, Simon Callow, Judi Dench, Zoe Wanamaker, Derek Jacobi, Richard Eyre, Alan Ayckbourn, David Hare, Peter Hall and Vanessa Redgrave, supported by industry organisations such as the Critics’ Circle, BECTU, the Theatres Trust and the Society of London Theatre.
Theatregoers have also gotten involved. In addition to starting petitions, several contributors to the Whatsonstage.com Discussion Forum are planning a candlelight vigil for the museum’s final hours on Sunday.
- by Terri Paddock