By Flora Naughtie
London and New York, two fashionable theatrical capitals with an archive of design that ‘Curtain Up’ now on at the V&A delves into. Shows produced – both on Broadway and in the West End – over the last four decades are revisited and the exhibition is timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of The Olivier Awards. It covers many aspects of a production – music, set-design and scripts are all included – but the highlight is how it re-introduces us to some of theatres most iconic moments in fashion and costume.
The journey from sketch to stage is fascinating. Maria Bjornsen’s original designs are shown alongside the white mask worn by Michael Crawford for the 1986 Phantom of the Opera. There are the golden, glittery top hats from The Chorus Line (1967) which have been installed like an artwork.
Female acting heavy-weights are also a focus. Helen Mirren’s award winning appearance in The Audience is honoured by an inclusion of the white regency gown designed by Bob Crowley. Judi Dench and the Royal Shakespeare Company also get a nod with her costume from the final scene of Cleopatra (1987). The costume for the character of Roxy from mega hit Chicago also makes an appearance.
This exhibition seems long overdue and the combination of elements that make up a production make it an impressive experience. The fashion choices and the different stages of design are part of the wider picture of Curtain Up but they are presented as centre pieces, reflecting how fashion design is at the heart of every successful theatrical and musical production.