The Theatre and Performance collection was founded in the 1920s when a private collector, Gabrielle Enthoven, donated her extensive collection of theatrical designs, memorabilia, books and photographs to the Museum. Since then the collection has continued to grow and has provided a home for many other significant objects and archives. All areas of the live performing arts are represented in the collections, documenting both current practice and the history of the performing arts in the UK.
About the Theatre and Performance Collections
An overview of the Theatre and Performance collections indicating the very broad range of materials collected across all areas of the live performing arts, the history of the Department and its role in documenting both current practice and the history of the performing arts in the UK.
23 April 2014 marked the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. The V&A celebrated the birthday of the world’s most famous playwright with a range of special events and activities across the Museum. Highlights included a display in the Theatre and Performance Galleries, a Shakespeare Trail across the Museum, a book celebrating Shakespeare-related objects in the Museum’s collections, and a special Shakespeare Festival which ran from 21 April – 4 May 2014.
Among the Theatre and Performance collections there are over 3,500 stage costumes and accessories - ranging from complete outfits to individual headdresses. All are a tribute to the creativity and skills of designers and costume makers from the mid 18th century to today, in every kind of live performance - drama, opera, dance, musicals, pantomime, rock and pop, music hall, cabaret, circus.
Ballet dates back to the royal courts of 17th-century Europe. Styles of choreography have changed radically over the years, through the Romantic, Classical and 20th-century ballet periods. The V&A holds a large collection of ballet-related items in its Theatre & Performance collections including set designs, costumes, production photographs and orchestral scores.
Pantomime began as a type of traveling Italian street theatre known as Commedia dell'arte which came to Britain in the 16th century. Over the centuries it has developed into a festive entertainment that is still beloved by modern audiences. Discover more about the history of pantomime and it’s numerous well-loved stories and characters.
Played in Britain: Modern Theatre in 100 Plays 1945 - 2010
The Played in Britain iPad app celebrates sixty years of remarkable post-war theatre – from J. B. Priestley’s classic play An Inspector Calls (1946), to Laura Wade’s Posh (2010). Presenting a fascinating overview of British theatre, each play is accompanied by an original essay summarising its plot, impact and legacy and features material from the V&A’s vast collection.
The National Video Archive of Performance
The National Video Archive of Performance (NVAP) creates high quality archival recordings of live performance which are available for theatre researchers. It is the outcome of a unique agreement between the Federation of Entertainment Unions and the V&A Theatre and Performance Department.
Theatre and Performance Archives
The V&A Theatre and Performance Collections include many special collections and archives of the performing arts, from individual performers and collectors, theatres, theatre companies, and other organisations. They contain diaries, letters, manuscripts, photographs, ephemera, business papers, newspaper cuttings, and designs or sketches. There is direct access to selected online archive catalogues.