Dramatic Progress

…is the name of a free exhibition currently in the Lyttleton Lounge at the National Theatre.  I enjoyed this, together with Playing With Scale, a fascinating display in the Wolfson Gallery, also at the National Theatre, last week.

The full title of the first is Dramatic Progress, Votes for Women and the Edwardian Stage and it focuses on activism within the theatrical professions, most particularly two Edwardian organisations – the Actresses’ Franchise League (AFL) and the Women Writers’ Suffrage League (WWSL). These professionals’ organisations were formed in 1908 to support the cause of women’s suffrage and this exhibition charts some of their activities. There are letters, posters and other archive material in vitrines on the ground floor, with photographs and filmed extracts of works mainly on the second floor. It gives a small insight into the lives, beliefs and commitment to change of theatre women, and men, in the early twentieth century.

The second exhibition is also free. It is called Playing with Scale, How Designers Use Set Models and focuses on the tiny but perfect three-dimensional models, supported by drawing and sketches, used to create a stage setting. This really fascinated me. It included models and drawings from a number of Olivier theatre productions from 1977 to the present day, including those for the production I was going to see, Anthony and Cleopatra ( see Nothing Left Remarkable ).  The other productions were Exit the King (2018) , The Life of Galileo (1980), Antigone (2012) and The Comedy of Errors (2011) the last of which I also saw.

The technicalities of building such a model are explored. I did not know that there is a recognised scale for stage models, 1:25 in the UK, 1:24 in the US. Sketch models are often half that, at 1:50, making them more portable. Materials vary, from wood and papier-mache to the plastics used in 3D printing. Many were simply discarded once the production is finished ( though this doesn’t happen any more, they are archived ). They reminded me of the perfect dolls’ houses of childhood ( see Small Stories ).

Each of the models in the exhibition are supported by drawings and texts and photographs of the final performances and there is an explanatory paper Thinking in 3D: Scale Models for the Olivier Theatre by Eleanor Margolies, curator of the exhibition and former Jocelyn Herbert Fellow at the University of the Arts, London ( you can find a copy here thinking-in-3d ).  This also covers architect Dennis Lasdun’s original designs and models for the Olivier Theatre itself, he worked closely with Jocelyn Herbert and others in creating the auditorium and stage.  There is a series of workshops to accompany this exhibition, including practical drawing and model-making sessions ( see NT web-site ).

I would have liked to have seen the models for other plays I have seen here, including the iconic An Inspector Calls of 1992 and the stunning Bacchae a few years later. Perhaps the National has them tucked away somewhere and might, at some future date, bring them out.

Bot these exhibitions are interesting, FREE and worth a visit if you happen to be on the South Bank.

For more on theatre see                  Julius Caesar                 In Another Part of the Forest                       Quiz                            Second star to the right…

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