Theatre Museum - Not Going Anywhere

By Hazel Last edited 153 months ago
Theatre Museum - Not Going Anywhere

The Theatre Museum will not be closed - yet. The ventilator has not been switched off quite yet, though there is a hand hovering near the plug. Usually ignored by tourists for the flashier and better laid out museums of South Kensington, this quiet subsidiary of the Victoria and Albert museum in Covent Garden has been in the limelight of late. When two applications to the Heritage Lottery Fund were rejected, its future was put into question and various celebrity-driven campaigns were devised to keep the place afloat.

These seem to have worked as the trustees of the Victoria and Albert museum met last week and the Theatre Museum's collection will not be absorbed into the Victoria and Albert's South Kensington building or be forced to tour existing exhibition spaces and museums. It will instead stay in its inappropriate building in the West End until all proposed plans for its continuation have been considered. Among the proposals put forward are ideas put forward by the Royal Opera House that sits nearby in Covent Garden to work in partnership with the Theatre Museum that will make the most of the current museum site as an education and exhibition centre.

Despite the calibre of support for the Theatre Museum - the luvvy-est of stage luvvies, MPs, Society of London Theatre and Equity are among those who campaigned for its survival - the quality of the museum itself cannot be ignored. Rupert Christiansen in The Telegraph has a detailed description of the museum's problems that all the champagne and petitions parties thrown by stars of stage and screen cannot change:

"The Covent Garden premises, in which it was established in 1987, have always been wholly inadequate. The building was designed as a tax office and has the air of a penitentiary. The staff loathe it.The unprepossessing entrance opens into cavernous darkness, the facilities for the disabled are poor, and there is no room for storage (the bulk of the collection is boxed up in Olympia). Worst of all, its peculiar structure means that almost all the exhibition space is drearily and stiflingly subterranean. The place's only merit is its location in the heart of Theatreland."

We wish we could be more concerned for the Theatre Museum, either way - but we can't because we haven't been there. We just haven't bothered to go: nothing about it has attracted us and nothing it has done has got us excited and keen to visit. And that is the heart of the problem: museums can only stay open if people visit them and people visit them only if there is something worth seeing. Now that is has a few months to sort itself out, it needs to concentrate on what it can offer us and the way in which it delivers its experience. The show may go on but something really good needs to happen next otherwise we're going to stop watching.

Last Updated 22 May 2006