Historic England blog offers a neat introduction to theatre history

Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond © Historic England Archive

Historic England are pretty rubbish at protecting endangered entertainment buildings, as evidenced by their lack of support for Dudley Hippodrome and the imperilled Harrow Dominion.

However, I must compliment their blog which often turns up interesting short reads to enlighten those with an interest in performing arts and the venues they are played in.

This week’s find is a brief introduction to theatre across history is called Lifting the Curtain: Theatre Then and Now, written by Emily McLean.

Generously illustrated, it covers a lot of ground in a short space of time, and is worth a read if you have the time to spare.

You will find the blog here

Sarah Siddons and Brecon’s theatre history explored in online presentation

Statue of Sarah Siddons, sculpted in 1897 by Léon-Joseph Chavalliaud, located at Paddington Green, London

At 3pm BST this Saturday, October 2nd, there’s a rare chance to learn about theatre history in Brecon, Wales, and to hear about the Brecon-born theatrical sensation that was Sarah Siddons in a free live and online event.

Jayne Gold, a Guildhall School lecturer, is progressing research on theatre in Brecon as part of her PhD. at University of Bristol, and will discuss her latest discoveries relating to Brecon’s theatre traditions. Alongside her, Catherine Hindson, Professor of Theatre History at Bristol, will discuss some of the wider contexts of 18th and 19th century provincial theatre.

The online and in-person event will be complemented by an examination of some of the items in the collection at the Brecknock Museum which are linked to the greatest actor of her day, Sarah Siddons. Attendees will also enjoy a live re-creation of some of the area’s theatrical story.

This free event is presented both live at The Muse, Glamorgan Street, Brecon, (in-person attendance sold out) and online via YouTube – you can watch here

EXTRA You can also hear Jayne Gold talk about her research in a short audio piece called Brecon Stories which you can find here

The V&A thinks selling coffees is more important than their Theatre Collection. Let’s tell them they’re wrong.

This is important.

Those of you who remember the wonderful Theatre Museum in Covent Garden will know what a terrific archive of all things theatrical – from costumes to scripts, advertising to music, and everything theatrical in-between, covering centuries of the world’s most celebrated theatrical successes. When the Museum was forced to close, the collection was entrusted to the V&A who gave a solemn undertaking to protect and enhance the collection, which they have done. Until now.

Now the V&A want to abandon the collection. Under new plans, two thirds of the staff will be axed, greatly reducing access to the collection

Many people remember the horrendous advertising campaign from the 1980s which described the V&A as “An ace caff, with quite a nice museum attached.” That sort of philistinism has sadly raised its ugly head again.

SIBMAS has started this petition because performing the UK’s unique arts heritage is at serious risk.

SIBMAS is the International Association of Libraries, Museums, Archives and Documentation Centres of the Performing Arts. SIBMAS is an ITI-UNESCO supported organisation. (www.sibmas.org)

The UK has an extraordinary theatre and performance heritage. The performing arts objects, archives and library cared for by the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) represent the largest and most important resource in this area, supporting scholarship and learning, providing enjoyment and inspiration for countless people around the world.

The V&A have decided to close the department of Theatre and Performance as part of a massive organisational remodelling of the structure of the museum moving into a new structure. This will have a disproportionate and devastating effect on these collections and on the pool of knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm that underpin them and help to make them accessible. 

They need your help to not only protect jobs at a time of great uncertainty for libraries, archives and museums, but also to support the vital role that heritage collections play in the cultural sector.  At a time, when the Performing Arts have been so badly damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, this national collection should be given more support to protect the past and record the present in order to inform future generations. This is a serious threat to the history of the British live performing arts. The collection is a vital educational and research resource on an international level.

We call on the V&A to reconsider the scale and scope of its poorly thought-out proposals and to consider in particular the following The unique place that the V&A’s theatre collections have in the landscape of theatre research, public engagement with the history of performance, and the creative industries. 

The collection’s international status and its remit to collect for the nation, acting in effect as the national collection of Performing Arts for all of UK. 

The central place that librarians and archivists and their skills and their commitment play in relation to these collections and the damage to their professions worldwide.

The need to maintain open access to the collections rather than simply put them into storage, against many wishes of donors who have left their collections in safe keeping to the V&A.

The lack of public or stakeholder consultation about the proposed changes.  

When the Theatre Museum was closed by the V&A in 2007 staff, public, donors and the creative industries were assured that the department would flourish in its new home. The V&A is in danger of breaking that promise.

We ask senior management of the V&A to reconsider the position of the Theatre & Performance Department before they rush to close the archives and library and make responsible staff redundant.

An internal consultation runs until the end of March. If they get their way, then we are a few short weeks away from untold damage being done to UK Performing Arts heritage and the loss of many jobs which carry with them great specialisms and expertise which will all be lost forever if this senseless cull goes ahead.

Your help by signing this petition will not just help to protect the jobs of specialised and dedicated staff during a time of great uncertainty, it will also protect access to a world class archive for future generations, to enable our great history of world-leading performing arts to be shared with future generations. Do nothing, and it will be lost forever. If your child or grandchild ever in the future wanted be be a researcher, writer or academician in the performing arts, not supporting this petition will deny them their passion. Could you live with that? Sign.

Sign the petition and support the Theatre Collection here

The unique Wilton’s Music Hall is open for tours

Wilton’s Music Hall is an unique survivor in London’s theatrical history.

Amazingly just a few streets away from Tower Hill Underground Station, and the Tower of London itself, hidden in a little dimly lit back street called Grace’s Alley, is an often-overlooked jewel of London ‘s theatrical history – Wilton’s Music Hall.

Dating back as far as 1743, it was first a pub and then improved and enlarged over the years. John Wilton bought the venue in 1850 and set about building his grand music hall which opened in 1859.

Sadly short-lived, the building changed owners in the 1870s and fell victim to a devastating fire in 1877. An eight-year reconstruction culminated in the building being acquired by the Methodist Church who created a Mission in the building, as such becoming an important community asset for the impoverished local communities. The Methodists left the building in the 1950s. As the whole area was scheduled for demolition in a widespread slum clearance, little hope was held out for its survival. However, a campaign was started to save the building with support from celebrities such as Sir John Betjeman, Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. After much campaigning, Wilton’s was given the protection of Grade II* listed building status in April 1971 and was bought by the Greater London Council who preserved it until 1999.

Wilton’s reopened in 1997 as a theatrical venue, however it was practically derelict and in need of much work to bring it back from the brink. In June 2007 the World Monuments Fund added the building to its list of the world’s “100 most endangered sites”. Many grants, fundraisers and appeals later, the venue was preserved in what is now generally accepted as a state of arrested decay, with no artificial recreations of previous appearances.

As such, a visit to Wilton’s like walking into a time capsule. The attractive long and high hall with its candy-twist columns supporting a slender gallery is a joy to behold. And performances there are greatly enhanced with the ambiance of almost 150 years of history.

If you haven’t visited, I strongly suggest you do so. There are so many interesting corners, nooks and crannies to explore. The extensive programme of activities and performances is very varied and the building, now owned by a Trust, is lovingly cared for.

Anyone who wants to explore this unique survivor from top to bottom is heartily recommended to book a tour which you can do through the venue’s website.

There are two different tours- the first, a full historic tour of the building which you can book here

There is also a film tour which concentrates on the venue as it has often been used in film and TV since the seventies. You can book the film tour here

London is blessed with unrivalled architectural history, and when you discover this little jewel tucked away in an unprepossessing little side street, you’ll be hungry to share it with your friends too.