It’s amazing what you can learn as a volunteer with the weekend Family Team.
For example, when I recently assisted with the pop-up Performance of the Nonsense Museum, while walking with families through the Silver Galleries I learnt from one of the Professors Higginbottom that a display of large round, finely crafted gilded metal objects were actually Victorian frisbees!
When pressed for more information on the subject from one of the children attendees, the Professor simply stated that it would be advisable to avoid getting hit on the head with one of these; they are quite weighty! Whatever might have been the inner misgivings of attendees regarding the truth of his information, the Professor was fortunately not troubled by any further questions around how the precarious flightpath of one of these discs might commence; they appeared a little too cumbersome to even attempt picking up – let alone launching…
Seen through the eyes of the Professors Higginbottom, museum objects have an uncanny habit of becoming something other than what you would at first imagine. Objects can also simultaneously have more than one function. For instance, on the return walk through the Silver Galleries we all learnt that the Victorian frisbees we saw earlier were also hippopotamus earrings!
This raised a number of questions; firstly how does the hippopotamus attach their enormous earrings to earlobes that are quite small in proportion to the rest of its body? And then how does the creature manage to swim when weighed down with the cumbersome adornments?
The promenade performance of Nonsense Museum begins with the audience assembling in one of the painting galleries. The interaction begins immediately, with everyone encouraged to shout loudly for the Professors Higginbottom, who are wandering absent-mindedly around the V&A. They arrive all in a fluster and introduce themselves as brother-and-sister professors; their funny and argumentative style keeps our audience attention as they then proceed to point out the giant golden angel sculpture and take turns to state what it is made of, with chocolate being a key material. A comic heated argument between the professors regarding who is right ends when it is finally noticed, generating further amusement, that all museum objects have labels that give the correct information, and all we need to do is read them!
This format is followed by the professors for several key objects subsequently; they vociferously and humorously state incorrect ‘facts’, and then allow the children to put them right. For example, a painting of a dog gives the brother Professor an opportunity to fling himself dramatically and comically on the floor, overcome with fake emotion apparently at the memory of his mother. Until a child matter-of-factly points out that the painting’s subject is not his mother after all, but a nice dog – cue laughter.
Before leaving the first gallery the audience are supplied with ‘professor’ outfits – white lab coats and clear glass spectacles. Along with the adults, this creates a big team of many mini ‘professors’ parading around the galleries, much to the bemusement of other visitors. The pop-up performances are designed, and delivered, with multi-generational family audiences in mind – and the playful format allows all ages lets everyone just let go and enjoy themselves! Indeed, it is noticeable that adults without a child in tow are also drawn to the performance, and this has been true of other recent pop-ups, with many visitors pausing to watch, then joining in and laughing along with everyone.
The Nonsense Museum promenades through the paintings to the silver gallery, where the previously mentioned Victorian frisbees are to be found. Also here is the large ornate silver vessel known by the sister Higginbottom to be a giant eggcup. As you can probably guess, this function is disputed by her brother, who is adamant that it has something to do with the King’s royal bum.
The brother Higginbottom proceeds to demonstrate just how large the king’s bottom is, by putting an inflatable bag down his trousers and pumping it up to gigantic proportions in true panto style. Predictably, the pump gets stuck while his bewildered sister is operating it and, as the inflatable bottom threatens to grow big enough to burst, the chaotic professors become more and more desperate – until a wise mini professor comes to the rescue with the very sensible solution of simply switching off the pump, to everyone’s great amusement.
Throughout the whole performance, the museum is brought to life with nonsense information that piques the audience interest and prompts corrections from the children, which puts them ahead of the silly professors in the knowledge stakes.
The actors include content that appeals to kids, with silly arguments and occasional references to bogies and bums that elicit many giggles. At the end of the performance, children are invited to draw their favourite thing from the galleries and write a comment.
In any of the performances, no matter what the theme, children always come up comments that adults would never have thought of, yet find hilarious! We get a window into the world of children, just as they see the museum. Families are such a delight to work with, and it’s a privilege to be part of an event that allows adults and children to share quality time together.