London's Museums of Dance, Film, Theatre & Entertainment
London's performance and entertainment-related museums are extremely diverse, ranging from vintage broadcasting equipment to the modern-day movie special effects, from clowns to magicians, and from Shakespeare to classical ballet.
The Victoria and Albert Museum's wonderful new Theatre & Performing Arts Galleries succeed in bringing many of these strands together in an overview of the history of live performance of all kinds in Britain.
London's Museums of Music & Musical Instruments
London's Museums of Literature & the Written Word
Return to London's museums grouped by theme
The Museums (in alphabetical order)
A delight for the specialist or collector, this museum celebrates the technology and hardware of early broadcasting, from radios and televisions to speakers and radiograms. The huge and comprehensive collection is perhaps the finest in the world, and many of the 1300 exhibits have been restored to full working order. Displays trace the history of broadcasting from the dawn of radio to the last valve model ever made, plus components, wireless associated artefacts and a valve laboratory.
Guided tours by appointment
A fascinating and comprehensive collection of all aspects of 'going to the pictures', from the 1890s to the present day, located in the former Lambeth workhouse where Charlie Chaplin spent time during his poverty-stricken childhood. The museum focuses on the 20th century cinema-going experience, and cinema's unique spirit and history. Exhibits include signs, seats and fittings, uniforms, a vast collection of posters, stills, photographs and illustrations, and much more. There is also a busy programme of screenings, talks and live events.
By appointment only
Not to be confused with the Clown Exhibition, which is located at the Wookey Hole Experience in Somerset, this small, but interesting display of material from the Clowns International archive includes 'clown face eggs
' and photographs. It is located next to the Grimaldi Memorial in the 'Clown's Church' (Holy Trinity, Dalston*) and is open on the first Friday of each month from noon onwards.
Very limited opening
* Holy Trinity
is the venue for the annual Clowns Service of Remembrance and Rededication in the memory of Joseph Grimaldi, that takes place on the first Sunday in February, and is followed by a traditional clown show for children. Grimaldi (1778-1837) was the first clown to use whiteface and is considered the 'father of modern clowning'.
Built in 1756 by actor-manager David Garrick in honour of his hero, Shakespeare, Garrick's Temple contains material on both Garrick and Shakespeare, a full-size copy of Roubiliac's statue of Shakespeare (Garrick bequeathed the original to the British Museum), and reproductions of great paintings of Garrick's life and work. Garrick and Shakespeare-related events and performances take place through the summer months.
Very limited opening
The museum promises 'the magic behind the movies' with displays on the history of the British film industry, Charlie Chaplin and animation. There are original props, costumes and memorabilia from major films including an animatronic dinosaur from Night at the Museum
costumes, and props from Alien
. Dr Who
fans will enjoy the Dalek and Tardis. Visitors can, for an extra fee, have their photo taken on a Star Wars
set with R2D2 and C3PO. There is a programme of temporary exhibitions, special events and workshops.
Located in the Magic Circle's Centre for Magic Arts - an extraordinary building with a spectacular helical staircase - this small museum is a treasure trove of props, stage costumes, photos and memorabilia relating to the 'history of mystery', including early magic sets, handcuffs used by Harry Houdini, and the magic props used by HRH Prince Charles. The museum is open to the public twice a month as part of the 'Meet the Magic Circle
By appointment only. Limited opening
Discover Elizabethan theatre as Shakespeare knew it - the costumes, the sword fights and the secrets of Elizabethan special effects - from blood and gore to magic tricks and flying on stage. Learn about the remarkable reconstruction of the Globe Theatre by craftspeople using hand tools and Elizabethan techniques. The exhibition features regular live demonstrations of sword-fighting, costume dressings and printing on a replica 17th century press, and entry includes a tour of the working Globe Theatre led by a story-teller guide.
These ambitious galleries cover all aspects of live performance, from theatre, opera and dance, to circus, pantomime, music hall, puppetry and more. The extensive collections encompass both the history of the performing arts in the UK, and current practice. Displays explore the place of costume and make-up in performance, the role of the audience, and the history and practise of censorship. The entire process of staging a production is examined, from initial ideas and designs, through financing, casting and choosing a venue, to rehearsals and promotion. Exhibits include props and costumes, set designs, stage machinery and equipment, posters, programmes, tickets and much more, from the medieval period to today's celebrity productions.
The museum of the renowned Royal Ballet School, and the first dedicated ballet museum in the UK. Learn about the generations of dancers who have trained at the School, and get insights into the daily life of today's students. Compare the ideals of Classical Palladian architecture with the principles of Classical ballet, discover the romantic era of ballet, and see some of the treasures of the Royal Ballet School's collection, including Margot Fonteyn's ballet shoe and the death mask of Anna Pavlova.
By appointment only. Limited opening