Ahead of the opening of the V&A museum's new Theatre & Performance Galleries on Wednesday (16 March 2009), the doors were opened this morning to give journalists a preview of what's on offer from the new exhibitions.

The new galleries act as a replacement for the Covent Garden Theatre Museum, a subsidiary of the V&A which closed in 2007 despite widespread industry protest (See News, 5 Jan 2007).

Although smaller in scale, the Theatre & Performance Galleries are designed to showcase what curator Kate Dorney today described as the “best bits” of the collection, alongside exhibits added since the closure of the old museum.

Items are not arranged chronologically (as they were at the Theatre Museum), but grouped into sections such as 'rehearsal', 'publicity', 'design' and 'producing'. Exhibits on display include posters, manuscripts, photographs, costumes and props, as well as interactive and multimedia elements.

Kate Dorney said the new layout was designed to be “more dynamic” than its previous incarnation, and “able to respond quickly to changing events, such as major anniversaries”. Alongside the permanent collection, the galleries include a section for temporary exhibitions, which currently includes a selection of Reg Wilson photographs.

Other highlights on display include a large selection of costumes worn by performers including Richard Burton, Margot Fonteyn, Laurence Olivier, Elton John and Mick Jagger, as well as manuscripts including the original conductor's score of Jesus Christ Superstar and an early draft of Sheridan's The School for Scandal dating from 1777. There is also a selection of archive film featuring performers including Rudolf Nureyev, Marlene Dietrich, Fiona Shaw, Michael Redgrave and Carlos Acosta.

In tandem with the new galleries the V&A will also be touring exhibitions from the collections and presenting them online (www.vam.ac.uk). The Theatre & Performance Galleries are situated on the first floor of the V&A and admission is free. The theatre archive, which used to be housed in the basement of the Theatre Museum,  can be accessed in the V&A's newly refurbished Blythe House Archive & Library Reading Room.

- by Theo Bosanquet