As per the instructions on the website, I gathered at the meeting point at the back of the main hall. I always feel that the V&A never gets quite as much attention as it's other cultural cousin's in the Kensington vicinity; the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. This shouldn't be the case as the gallery owns over 4.5 million items and has undergone a £150 million renovation.
The entrance hall
I was meeted and greeted by our tour guide, Alex, who would be expertly narrating us around the theatre collection for the next hour. The collection was donated by Gabrielle Enthoven, theatre historian, actor and playwright, in 1924, who continued to add to it until her death in 1950. However, what saddened me slightly, is that, due to space limitations, about two thirds is stored in a warehouse.*Cue multimillion pound donation*
The tour provided an insight into the creative minds behind various objects in the collection. The main attraction at the entrance is a life-size rhinoceros, originally used as a costume for the play Rhinocéros by Eugène Ionesco, which was a play criticising the mass adoption of Facism before the beginning of World War II. The rhino covers a bicycle-like contraption that is used by two people housed inside the front and back end of the animal to move the beast across the stage.
A rhinoceros, the centre piece for Rhinocéros
We went through the history of theatre including different productions of Shakespeare, Victorian musical halls, marionette theatre and performance censorship imposed by the Lord Chamberlain, which, quite shockingly, wasn't lifted until 1968. Up until that point nudity on stage was very much frowned upon, although interestingly, standing still while naked was deemed to be 'art' and passed censorship, but as soon as a finger or head lolled into action, the scene was scrapped.
We moved on to the 'performance' element of the tour. This covered costume design for famous pop artists like Adam Ant, Mick Jagger (who has the smallest waist ever seen on a man!) and Elton John. There is even a full size replica of Kylie Minogue's backstage dressing room, which, being the diva that she is, was set up exactly the same wherever she was performing in the world.
Alex brought the hour to an end next to a projection of different performances and famous set designs. After saying goodbye, we sat and watched 3-minute clips of some great British performances including Jerusalem, Billy Elliot and Yes, Prime Minister. These are all available on request to watch at Blythe House at Olympia, something, that would have been hugely beneficial to me as a student, if only I had known.
I really recommend this to anyone at a loss for something to do for an hour. It is free, fun and educational. What more could you want?
Where: South Kensington
Price: Free, 2pm everyday until the 31st December 2013
More info: www.vam.ac.uk