Curtain Up: Celebrating 40 Years of Theatre in London and New York

Things to do, Exhibitions Free
4 out of 5 stars
5 out of 5 stars
(5user reviews)
A Chorus Line
© Jonathan Hordle

This glam little exhibition makes the V&A's permanent 'Theatre and Performance' collection look positively drab with its flashing lights, sequins and showstoppers. It's a collection of posters, costumes, artefacts and recordings that represent the biggest shows in West End and Broadway history. It celebrates 40 years of the Olivier awards, and you won't forget it – most of the exhibit label space is taken up with listing exactly who won which gong and when.

The collection is impressive and varied, though; a note from Sir Ian McKellen to his 'Amadeus' understudy from 1980, the mask Michael Crawford wore in the original production of 'The Phantom of the Opera', a model of the magnificent set from the current West End production of 'Matilda'. Its 'immersive' elements are stretching the definition, though a primary school trip was certainly enjoying the sound board that blasts out one of the most annoying songs from 'Hairspray', and it's hard not to shuffle yourself into step in the mirrored corridor celebrating the sparkly finale of 'A Chorus Line'. If jazz hands make you shudder then this tribute to all things stagey won't convert you, but luvvies will simply love it.

By: Ashleigh Arnott

Average User Rating

4.6 / 5

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Curtain Up is a small excibition about musicals/theatre in the 3rd floor of V&A museum. Despite being small, has a lot to see and explore. 

It is comprised by 2 main parts; the one refers to the permanent excibition of V&A refering to theatre (mostly old/historic productions) and the new part that is the excibition of nowadays musicals under the Olivier Awards and Mastercard sponsporship. This new part is only for a limited period of time unfortunately - it is for sure the most interesting and it would be nice if V&A museum decide in the future to keep it as permanent one in its grounds.

You can see theatre brochures, models of stages in small scale, costumes, videos and a cool representation of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night".

Free entrance (ask staff where is located as it is a bit confusing).

A lovely little exhibition that is rather uplifting. It won't take you much time to get round, but worth a visit when you're at the V&A, particularly if you're into musical theatre. It's up on the third floor in the theatre section (I got lost finding it). You'll find bits and bobs from classics like Phantom and Guys and Dolls plus other productions you may not have heard of. I particularly liked the Curious Incident section right at the end. It will have you wanting to get down to Leicester Square to get some half price tickets! I only wish it had been a bigger exhibition...


Curtain Up is a small exhibition in the V&A Museum specially held to celebrate the Olivier Awards.

It’s a collection of posters, artefacts, records, scripts and costumes that all makes an award winning West-End/Broadway show. To get up close to these collection is pretty cool and you won’t be help yourself from marveling at the array of glittering costumes and props.

Although small, the collection is impressive and varied, cramming in a lot in such a small floor space. Make sure, and it’s impossible to miss this, to see the recreation of the stage from The Curious of a Dog in a Night Time. Those that have seen it can agree that the stage is quite stunning and to be immersed even on a piece of this stage is quite something. It’s mesmerising.

Read the exhibit label too. It’s really quite informative and soon you’ll understand what those awards really mean to those that win it.

The exhibition is entirely free (so there’s no excuse not to check it out!) and runs until the 10 August. For theatre buffs, it’s a must visit. But whether you’re a theatre buff or not, I strongly recommend you to check it out. Brings the kids too, they’ll love it and may even be inspired.


Jazz hands ready & greasepaint slicked on? Light-bulbs brilliantly bright & tap shoes tied tight? This, ladies & gentlemen, is your 10 minute call for the actor within, the luvvie inside, the thespian dying to come out and play.

‘Curtain Up’, which opened on February 9th and which runs until the end of August, is a gorgeous little exhibit tucked away upstairs at the V&A. Part of the celebrations marking 40 years of the illustrious & much coveted Olivier Awards, it offers a glimpse into the twinned worlds and spangled galaxies of Broadway & the West End.

Blending together original costume sketches, playbills, posters, scripts and memorabilia, you’ll find yourself re-appreciating the things you’ve seen before – whispers of lace from ‘Chicago’ made me want to get my Fosse on again big time – and marveling at the things you never knew – Broadway’s nickname ‘The Great White Way’ comes from all the lit up marquees and signs along the Theatre District.

Show programmes twirl from the ceiling, an underfoot map of the West End lets you walk through the London streets where some of the world’s most fabled theatres sit and a ‘Theatreland’ map from 1928 allows you to pick out both the buildings still with us and the ones that have long since retired gracefully into the shadows a la Norma Desmond.

Costumes from legendary shows like ‘Phantom of the Opera’ sit alongside those from newer kids on the block like ‘The Lion King’, with ‘Swan Lake’ feathers and ‘War Horse’ puppets representing the worlds of ballet & plays. A mirrored corridor with suspended gold top hats had me surreptitiously serenading fellow theatre fans with my own rendition of ‘One’ from ‘A Chorus Line’ and a handwritten note from Sir Ian McKellan to his understudy was every bit as warm & caring as you’d expect from the jovial actor. Set models from ‘Matilda’ sat side by side with sound decks from ‘Hairspray’ and glass cases which carefully guarded an Olivier, a Tony, a BAFTA and an Academy Award.

Follow the exhibition round into the museum’s all year round Theatre & Performance exhibition and marvel at an exact replica of Kylie’s sequinned & lipsticked dressing room, a handwritten note from screen siren Vivien Leigh to husband Laurence Olivier and an intricately detailed scale replica of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. It takes about an hour to get all the way round this totally free exhibition which transfers to Broadway in the autumn so make sure you don’t miss out on a brilliant way to pass a little time in one of the world’s greatest museums.

Places now please…and a five, six, seven, eight…


As a die hard fan of the West End, I could not wait to check out Curtain Up. It’s not a huge exhibit but it contains some great costumes, scripts, video footage, posters and set designs. The show has been put on to celebrate 40 years of the Olivier Awards and 70 years of the Tony awards and it makes some interesting comparisons between the West End and Broadway. The Phantom of the Opera costume at the beginning and a couple of costumes from The Producers at the end are particularly impressive. There are also a number of costume design sketches included in the exhibit which were great to see. A few minor complaints - there is a slide show displaying facts about the West End and Broadway but my friend and I found that the slides changed too quickly and you have to watch it a couple of times to be able to read the whole thing. There were also a number of videos to watch but each video only had one set of (very quiet) head phones so I sometimes had to wait awhile to watch these clips. Overall, the exhibit is a great celebration of theatre over the last 40 odd years.