Theatre Museum to close after talks collapse

Covent Garden’s Theatre Museum is set to be closed down permanently, after plans for a partnership to run a revamped institution on the site broke down following five months of talks.

The decision by the Royal Opera House and the Victoria and Albert Museum to end discussions for a collaboration means that it looks almost certain the museum will now close on a permanent basis come January.

The pair blamed lack of funds on their decision to abandon the project, while finding a third partner to help run the scheme, after the Society of London Theatre decided not to get involved, had also proved an issue.

ROH chief executive Tony Hall commented: “We spent a lot of time seeing whether we could devise an exciting plan for the museum, and secure the funding to make it work. All that effort and energy was worthwhile but sadly the conclusion we have come to is that it is not going to work.

“Though there has been a huge amount of moral support for the Theatre Museum, money for the most part has not been forthcoming. From the beginning, we had always seen this as being a joint venture between ourselves, the V&A and any number of others from the theatre world. We did not want it to be a Theatre Museum dominated by the ROH. Unfortunately, we have not been able to find those other collaborators. In addition, working with the V&A team over the past few months, it has been clear that the capital costs to freshen up the building and to give it a new lease of life are much higher than originally thought.”

The V&A’s trustees will now review the situation but it is expected that the organisation will revert to its original plans before the ROH became involved. This means shutting down the Covent Garden site and instead transferring some of the exhibitions to a permanent gallery at the V&A in South Kensington, which would also host temporary displays. Touring exhibitions would be taken around the country. However, there would be no museum dedicated to theatre and the performing arts anywhere in the UK.

V&A director Mark Jones explained: “Both the V&A and the Royal Opera House had high hopes that together and with partners we could establish a new centre in Covent Garden. Sadly, the support we need has not been forthcoming. I am grateful to Tony Hall and the ROH management and trustees for giving us the opportunity to explore all the possibilities together and am only sad that, in this instance, a partnership is not possible.

“The V&A recognises the disappointment this announcement will cause, particularly to those in the theatrical community who would like the Theatre Museum to remain in Covent Garden. However, we remain totally committed to safeguarding and displaying these collections which celebrate Britain’s unique theatrical heritage in costume and stage design.”

* For more on this story, including exclusive interviews with Tony Hall and Mark Jones, see this week’s edition of The Stage, out on Thursday, September 28.

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