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‘A Backward Step’?

By Dave Haste Last edited 127 months ago
‘A Backward Step’?
The Theatre Museum

Despite the announcement of the final decision on the fate of the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden (it is to be closed due to a lack of funding needed to keep it operating in its current dilapidated site), the debate is still raging – this time in the letters pages of the Times:

Britain and, in particular, London, has a unique place in world theatre. Thriving theatre museums can be found in Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Finland, Portugal and the US. Perhaps it is time for the Theatre Museum to break away from its apparently neglectful parent and stand on its own. This would require the key funding bodies in the UK to wake up and recognise the importance of the museum to London, the UK and world heritage before it is too late.

The objections on this occasion come from the directors of a number of European theatre museums, who claim that the decision to close London’s Theatre Museum and move much of the collection to its parent museum, the V&A in Kensington, is “a backward step in the preservation and promotion of British performance heritage.”

The issue is a tricky one. On one hand it is hard to deny that the museum’s current building needs a lot of improvement, as we found when we visited it last week. And without significant funding, it’s clear that this improvement will not be forthcoming, so maybe the museum’s collection will be better served in the Kensington V&A. However on the other hand, this is the only dedicated theatre museum in the country, and what better place for it than in the heart of London’s theatre district, where “the world it reflects is at its doorstep”?

Even within the Londonist ranks we’re not in absolute agreement on the best course of action for the museum. What is the relative value of a dedicated site within a Covent Garden postcode, compared to well-equipped buildings and facilities in an established museum on Exhibition Road?

If you have visited the museum we’d like to hear what you think of its fate. Do you think next year’s move to the Kensington V&A is a good opportunity to give the collection the home it deserves, or do you agree with the European museum directors that this is damaging to Britain’s performance heritage?

Last Updated 18 October 2006