Last Friday I was saved from a fate worse than death (boredom) by an event in which the Directrix, a recurring figure in these pages, was participating. And so it was that I, together with a chum we shall refer to as “the Easterner” found ourselves en route to South Kensington. The Directrix’ event was taking place at no less a venue than the Victoria and Albert Museum.
The Victoria and Albert (or “V&A,” as it’s known to friends) is, I have to admit, not my favourite museum by a long shot. I don’t know why, it focuses on art and design, and I’m quite interested in design as a subject. I think the problem is that it covers so very much – from the Classical period to the modern day, and with exhibits from all over the world – that you have to be really into design to take the whole thing in. Compounding this is the fact that it’s quite an old-fashioned museum in terms of the way its exhibits are laid out. There doesn’t seem to be any attempt made to really “wow” the casual visitor in the way that other museums in London do. The whole thing feels like a place you ought to visit rather than a place you visit because you really want to. You know, you go there with your grandma who’s down from Yorkshire for the first time in twenty years or something.
The museum was opened in its current location in 1857, and like its friends the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, was funded by the proceeds of the Great Exhibition of 1851, seen on the right. The Exhibition was Prince Albert’s idea to showcase all of the greatest innovations of the day under a single roof. The venue was Hyde Park, in a massive building known as the Crystal Palace – an edifice made all the more spectacular by the fact that its designer, Joseph Paxton, had no formal training in architecture. The exhibition made a profit of over £180,000, which in modern money is lots, and Albert oversaw the purchase of land in then-largely-undeveloped South Kensington to establish an area of culture and education. This area became known to the satirists of the day as “Albertopolis.” Albert’s progressive aspirations for the British public were not universally acclaimed, perhaps not least because the German Prince Consort was not felt to be “one of us.” It’s like, what does a guy got to do to get some respect around here?
Anyway, the other permanent legacy of the Great Exhibition was that many of the items therein formed the nucleus of the V&A. Lest you think the Royals were incredible egotists, the institution was known at its opening as the South Kensington Museum. However, you’ll notice that like the later title, “the South Kensington Museum” gives no clue whatsoever as to what the museum is actually about.
Anyway. The Directrix’ show was an experimental-type theatre piece as part of one of the events known as “V&A Lates.” These are, as the name suggests, late night openings. In this case, the theme was theatre, and the Directrix’ show was one of a number there. The Easterner and I spent the evening in fear of being audience-participated-with. Much as I enjoy theatre, I have a pathological hatred of audience participation. Actually, I don’t think anyone apart from the actors themselves actually enjoys it.
There were a number of events of great interest there – the one that really stuck for us was a reading from Shakespeare’s First Folio by father-and-son acting duo Timothy and Samuel West. The First Folio is the first halfway-decent edition of Shakespeare’s plays ever published, only omitting the lost texts Cardenio and Love’s Labours Won and the existing plays you’ve never read The Two Noble Kinsmen and Pericles, Prince of Tyre. The readings were unpolished and not particularly rehearsed, but even so it was superb to see two highly acclaimed actors showing their stuff. It’s unusual to see Shakespeare’s comic scenes played in a manner that’s actually funny – most actors attempting them tend to go at them as if attempting to bludgeon the jokes to death. The Easterner at one point commented on West Sr, “Why doesn’ t that guy have a knighthood?” I concur.
Sadly, though, we ended up missing the Directrix’ show as a consequence of the labyrinthine layout of the museum and the limited timeframe. We were somewhat berated for this, and were informed that our punishment was that we’d missed out on the chance to meet Dame Judi Dench, who had been there to see it. Other Tom demanded to know why the Directrix had not attempted to capture Dame Judi – I forget what the answer was.
Then we went to the pub, where one guy was so drunk he pissed on the stairs. A good night, all in all.
And if you liked this…
… why not come and see the play I’m in? No audience participation, I promise.