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History of the Theatre and Performance collections

The collections were founded in the 1920s when a private collector, Gabrielle Enthoven, donated her extensive collection of theatrical designs, memorabilia, books and photographs to the Museum. She continued to add to her collection and worked on it as a museum volunteer until her death in 1950. Since that period the collection has continued to grow and has provided a home for many other significant objects and archives.

Between 1987 and 2007 some of this material was housed at the V&A's branch museum in Covent Garden, the Theatre Museum. New galleries devoted to the performing arts opened at the V&A in South Kensington in 2009. Material not on display there is housed at the V&A's premises in Kensington Olympia, where a reading room provides a way to access much of this stored material.

Subjects represented in the collections

All areas of the live performing arts are represented in the collections. The role of the department is to document both current practice and the history of the performing arts in the UK, which inevitably includes appearances by artists and companies visiting from overseas.

The range of materials collected

The range of materials collected by the department is very broad, and includes:

  • Architectural plans
  • Business archives and personal papers
  • Ceramics
  • Costumes and accessories
  • Designs
  • Legal documents, account books
  • Paintings and drawings
  • Posters
  • Printed books
  • Manuscripts, promptbooks and letters
  • Periodicals
  • Prints
  • Properties (props) and other three-dimensional objects
  • Puppets
  • Scenic cloths
  • Song sheets
  • Stage machinery and equipment
  • Set models and model theatres
  • Theatre programmes and reviews
  • Tickets and tokens
  • Tinsel prints
  • Video and audio recordings, including the National Video Archive of Performance - unique recordings of UK stage shows made by the Museum's video unit

Discovering what's in the collections

Museum objects and works of art
The department’s collections of items such as costumes, paintings, designs, ceramics and other museum objects can be searched by going to ‘Search the Collections’

Books, manuscripts, audio-visual recordings are searchable here.
(Please note that a large number of book items can only be accessed via a card catalogue)

Archive Collections
The Theatre and Performance Archives contain business and personal archives.  The collections are broadly catalogued at collection level here.

However, many of the department's archive collections also have more detailed, itemised finding aids.  Please visit this page for a full listing:

Theatre and performance archives

Accessing the Theatre and Performance collections in person

Most of the items in the V&A Theatre and Performance collections can be accessed in the reading room at Blythe House in Kensington Olympia. An appointment is essential and can be made by contacting tmenquiries@vam.ac.uk


A telephone enquiry service is provided for the use of the theatre profession and the media only: +44 (0)20 7942 2697. All other enquiries should be e-mailed to tmenquiries@vam.ac.uk

A gift in your will

You may not have thought of including a gift to a museum in your will, but the V&A is a charity and legacies form an important source of funding for our work. It is not just the great collectors and the wealthy who leave legacies to the V&A. Legacies of all sizes, large and small, make a real difference to what we can do and your support can help ensure that future generations enjoy the V&A as much as you have.