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Check out an exhibition dedicated to the world’s oldest surviving music hall

Written by
Stephanie Hartman

‘Storybox: Tales of Absence, “What ifs” and Salvation’ is currently on show at Wilton’s Music Hall. Here’s everything you need to know about it before you go.

Sounds like a troubled teenager’s diary! What exactly is it?

Glad you asked. It’s an exhibition of work inspired by the Wilton’s Music Hall archive, which was just acquired by the V&A theatre collection. A group of designers and illustrators known as The Storybox Collective are behind it, and they’ve been poring over photographs, documents and sketches. They want to explore the potential of archival research and do away with its fusty connotations.

What’s so interesting about Wilton’s Music Hall?

Well, for one thing, it’s the oldest surviving grand Victorian music hall in the world. In 1859, five houses were combined into one venue by John Wilton, who invited the hottest talent of the day to perform on his stage, like ‘Champagne Charlie’ singer George Leybourne.

The building operated as a music hall until 1881. Void of entertainers, it became a Methodist mission, survived the Blitz, stood in as a rag-sorting warehouse, was nearly demolished, gained Grade II-listed status, reopened as a performance venue and was completely restored in 2015. Phew!

Nice. What should I look out for in the exhibition?

The works on show sit neatly under the three themes found within the exhibition title, but individually explore the role of women at Wilton’s, the building’s connection with Christianity, social histories and more. Illustrator Anna German’s work questions why no visual record of John Wilton’s wife Ellen (who ran the music hall for nearly 20 years) exists, while artist Poppy Parry has translated the building’s shape-shifting history into a hand-embroidered victory banner. Spot the patch dedicated to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s iconic, and banned, video for Relax’, which was shot at Wilton’s. If you have a moth-eaten Frankie Says Relax T-shirt lurking in your dresser, now is the time to put it on.

Storybox: Tales of Absence, ‘What ifs’ and Salvation. Wilton’s Music Hall. Tower Hill. Until Sat Nov 25. Free.

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