British Theatre and Europe: Past, Present and Future – Part 1

Theatre and Performance
April 13, 2017

Just as the UK begins to re-examine its relationship with Europe, the V&A presents a new way of exploring European history and cultural heritage.  Assistant Curators, Alice Young and Helen Gush, introduce a new European display in the Theatre and Performance Galleries and the upcoming Performance Festival drawing on European themes

The new display in the Theatre and Performance galleries, The History of Europe – Told by its Theatres, has taken on even greater significance following the fallout from the EU referendum. This timely and exciting exhibition is the culmination of a pan-European project organised by PERSPECTIV – the Association of Historic Theatres in Europe. Supported by the Culture Programme of the European Union, the project brought together six different theatre museums from across the continent to co-curate a display that reveals the close relationship that theatre and performance have to the wider history of Europe.

Display The History of Europe – Told by its Theatres, Theatre and Performance Galleries 103-104. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Through investigating topics such as national identity, democracy, and cross-cultural exchange, this display explores and celebrates how theatre reflects our shared history, from its origins in Ancient Greece right up to the present moment.

Caricature of Edmund Kean as Richard III, 1814. Museum no. S.99-1992. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

By bringing together historic theatre objects from across Europe, the resulting display is also a panorama of European theatre collections. Over the last two years, The History of Europe – Told by its Theatres has been on tour throughout Europe, appearing in theatre museums in Warsaw, Vienna, Munich, Ljubljana and Hanau.

This impressive European tour could not have arrived in London at a more pertinent time. As the United Kingdom prepares to become the first country ever to leave the European Union, it seems like the perfect opportunity to reflect on our shared history – to connect the past to the present, and to consider what theatre and performance might offer us as we renegotiate our place on the global stage.

Costume for the Can-Can Dancer in La Boutique Fantasque, designed by André Derain, Diaghilev Ballet, 1919. Museum no. S.877-1980. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

As the exhibition’s final destination, the V&A is also taking the opportunity to celebrate some of the European objects from its theatre and performance collections. Alongside adding key pieces such as a pair of Ballet Russes costumes to the display, and film content bringing the discussion of theatre in Europe up to date, we are also hosting a number of events reflecting on European history – celebrating all areas of the performing arts both in Britain and abroad.

To discover more about the V&A Performance Festival 2017 read British Theatre and Europe: Past, Present and Future – Part 2.

The History of Europe – Told by its Theatres is free to visit and will be in the V&A Theatre and Performance galleries 23 March – 3 September 2017.

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