Actors stage protest to save London’s Theatre Museum

Actors, playwrights and theatrical institutions - including the Royal Opera House (ROH) - have launched an urgent rearguard action to stop the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) pulling out of Covent Garden's Theatre Museum.
Jane Morris
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The museum opened as a branch of the V&A in 1987, but now the V&A's trustees are considering closing the museum and moving the collection back to South Kensington (Museums Journal April 2006 p5).

After widespread speculation in the press about the Theatre Museum's future, the V&A issued a consultation document last month about the viability of the museum, after the Heritage Lottery Fund rejected development plans for the second time in two years.

The document puts forward two options: closing the museum and moving the collections to new displays at South Kensington; or keeping the building open with a partner performing arts organisation, although main collections functions would still move.

The ROH chief executive Tony Hall has indicated that the opera and ballet company, based close to the Theatre Museum, is putting together a proposal to work with the V&A to keep the museum open. The proposals will go to the next trustees' meeting on 18 May.

A spokesman for the ROH, which has set up a working party including education and curatorial staff from both the ROH and the V&A, said: 'We are talking to the Theatre Museum to see if we can come up with some sort of joint proposal to work together in the future.'

The ROH used the museum's Oliver Messel archive as the basis for its new production of The Sleeping Beauty and has worked with the museum on exhibitions such as the ongoing Kenneth McMillan show.

While the discussions are around sharing collections expertise and education programmes, the ROH could also provide the museum with other operational functions.

According to the V&A, the main problem with the museum is the building it leases in Covent Garden, which costs almost £1m a year. It has circulation problems, poor environmental controls and lacks space for education, catering and retail. External commentators have also criticised the out-of-date displays.

Carole Souter, the director of the Heritage Lottery Fund, said the two applications - for £9m in 2004, later reduced to £2.6m in December 2005 - failed chiefly because 'of the suitability of the building, coupled with access difficulties and issues around the financial viability of the overall project'.

Visits to the museum have increased steadily from 195,000 in 2000/01 to 225,000 last year.A number of actors and playwrights, including the Redgrave family, have reacted with horror to the closure plans.

The Stage magazine has launched a campaign to save the museum and is attracting high profile supporters including Judi Dench and Glenda Jackson.

The closing date for responses to the consultation (www.theatremuseum.org.uk) is 12 May. The Stage campaign is at www.thestage.co.uk

Jane Morris

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