13 August 2012

Blythe House Theatre & Performance Archives

Mask made by Doboujinsky & Lila de Nobili for Peter Wright's 1968 production of The Sleeping Beauty for the Royal Ballet (information here) | Mask made by Jocelyn Herbert for Harrison Birtwistle's opera, The Mask of Orpheus (here)

On the 19th of July, CreateVoice members visited Blythe House, at Kensington Olympia for a tour of the Theatre & Performance Archives led by Joanna Norledge, assistant archivist. Here the majority of the Victoria and Albert's archives are kept - including the Archive of Art and Design, the Beatrix Potter Collections, and the Theatre & Performance archives. In the near future the Clothworkers' Centre for Textiles and Fashion Study and Conservation will also be housed here. The building was originally a post office and savings bank, and features beautiful architecture and original features.

The Theatre and Performance archives hold millions of items of all aspects of theatre and performance from the United Kingdom, from theatre collections, puppets, photographs, sketches, paintings, films of performances and often memorabilia from performances, the circus, rock, pop and dance. Architectural design sketches of the theatres themselves are also included - not just the record of the performance itself, but the building that it took place in and the costumes work. Anything to do with the Theatre or any form of performance, the archive most likely has it!

Jess Starns

On the day, Joanna Norledge gave us a fascinating tour of the Theatre and Performance Archives. CreateVoice members were led through the vast archives past ancient books, signs, poster, costumes and much more - we were even lucky enough to be able to have a closer look at various items including photographic archives of the puppets, old typographic posters and photographs of productions, as well as a stunning bracelet given to actress Kate Terry by her husband on their marriage and her retirement from the stage - on this inside it is engraved with all of her stage roles and appearances. .Joanna also showed us examples of a very common archival problem with photographs, vinegar syndrome, as well as other images completely unharmed such as a 1976 Sex Pistols poster - the collection has its own rock'n'roll personality! It was incredibly interesting to see the sheer abundance of items that the archives hold - it truly is the Mary Poppins' handbag of the archival world!

Laura Blair

Anyone can visit the archive - whether for curiosity or academic enquiry. All that you need to do is book an appointment by emailing:

The archivists are undergoing projects to digitalise as much of the collections and archives as possible. This is daily work, as the V&A has such vast collections!

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