Saturday, March 28, 2009

Friday Late at the V&A

Somebody once told me the best time to visit London galleries is Friday afternoon, because the usual clientele go off to country houses.

So it was a surprise to see visitors swelling an already crowded V&A as we left at 6.30pm. It seemed a party was just getting started. In the entance hall, popular music of the forties was playing on a gramophone. Women drifted about in frocks, hats and red lipstick. A Fred Astaire/Judy Garland film was showing on a twenty foot screen.

It had been a day of false starts and revised plans when we'd intended to see 'Genova'at the Chelsea Cineworld. Then we had to go back because I'd forgotten to turn on the cooker. No chance of making the film start time, so the V&A instead, even though I'd recently misplaced my ticket.

Negotiations for a temporary ticket took time, then we had trouble finding the cafe - the map didn't make clear that you couldn't enter from the courtyard. There was a snaking queue from the drinks counter where half a dozen young people in uniforms served in a languid fashion. They didn't seem to have got to grips with the coffee machine so I read my book while R ordered a cappuccino and an orange that cost 75p.

There was plenty to keep me amused, though. A young man in an apron was telling an exasperated American that no, late opening for the museum didn't mean extended hours for the the kitchen. A stooped old man in a black cloak and a knapsack, supported between ski poles, was asked by a waitress if he wanted his 'usual tea and lemon cake'. Cloaks and little multi-coloured bumfreezer jackets with matching hats were very popular.

We'd have no time for the exhibitions, but I'd heard good reports of the newy opened Performance Galleries, which was free.

Reaching them was complicated - up flights of stairs and through a long room full of marble statues where a tour guide was giving a talk in German. Then another long room full of silver and stained glass, maybe not in that order, but we couldn't linger.

The Performance Gallery was well worth the trek. A haven of calm after the crowds, it included cases with dozens of costumes: Mick Jagger's impossibly narrow jump-suit, Margot Fonteyns' Swan Lake tutu, Ko-Ko's enormous outfit for the D'Oyly Carte 'Mikado' and Madam Arkadi's jewelled velvet gown. There was a display of model stage-sets and videoed highlights of recent West End productions, posters, programmes and photos.

Our return to the entrance led us through a gallery full of jewellery in a room with glass winding stair-cases and then through the museum shop. Here padded silk jackets and exquisitely embroidered coats seemed as theatrical as those in the rooms upstairs.

As we left I picked up a postcard about a whole series of Friday evening entertainment linked to current exhibitions. Customers are invited to 'chill out with a glass of wine'. I'll be back, but with oranges at 75p, it'll probably be with flask and butties to consume on a bench in the courtyard.

Fridays at the V&A

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