MPs join fight for Theatre Museum survival

Nuala Calvi

MPs including Jeremy Corbyn, Glenda Jackson and Peter Bottomley are rallying behind Covent Garden’s Theatre Museum and backing an Early Day Motion urging the government to intervene to save the site.

The motion, tabled by Labour MP John McDonnell, voices the “grave concern” of members from across the political parties at reports that the museum’s trustees plan to close the collection. It has so far attracted 21 signatures.

Britain’s only national museum for the performing arts had its funding bid for renovation work turned down by the Heritage Lottery Fund for a second time this year, and owner the V&A is considering separating out its activities into touring exhibitions, moving collections and temporary exhibits.

McDonnell, who is a member of the All Party Parliamentary Theatre Group, said: “I believe that the Theatre Museum is a national treasure and can’t comprehend why this decision has been made. Over the next few years, in advance of the London Olympics, we will see a major influx of tourists building up in the capital and a significant part of the attraction is a display of the cultural heritage of this country.

“If we allow the museum to close we will be sacrificing part of our history along with the lifelong expertise of the staff and curators. There is a strong body of opinion within parliament that believes this decision is an utterly philistine act and must be reversed.”

Oscar winner Jackson told The Stage she believed the government should either fund the museum directly, or organise a campaign to raise the money.

“This is not only about my interest because of my former work experience, but also as a Londoner,” she said. “The Theatre Museum is so central to both the history of theatre and to contemporary theatre in London. It’s also a great place to host events celebrating the industry.”

Her comments follow those of Donald Sinden, chairman of the British Theatre Museum Association and a key figure in setting up the venue in the seventies, who said its closure would be “disastrous”.

Among the Theatre Museum’s collection are costumes, set designs, manuscripts, posters, paintings, books and video recordings, including the National Video Archive of Performance, which detail past performances and the lives of performers. Its material covers all the live performing arts, including drama, dance, opera, musical theatre, circus, puppetry, music hall and live art.

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokeswoman said: “The Theatre Museum is a matter for the V&A trustees. All options for the best use of the collection in the future are currently being considered and we would encourage views to be fed in at this stage. Access to key parts of the theatre collection will be maintained whatever the outcome of the review.”

V&A trustees, including Arts Council England chair Christopher Frayling, were due to meet to discuss the museum’s future as The Stage went to press.

A spokesperson said: “We are very aware of the support for the Theatre Museum and its collection. Whatever the result of the current review the primary concern for the V&A is to ensure that this important collection is seen as widely as possible and cared for in the best way.”

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