DAY 3 @ the V&A: Behind the Scenes of my Shakespeare Course

This is a guest post by Dr Enza De Francisci who is currently preparing a Shakespeare and Italy course at the V&A supported by the University College London-King’s College London Collaborative Learning Fellowship in the Arts, Society and the Humanities (Arts and Humanities Research Council)

Today’s day at the V&A involved taking my international students from the University of the Arts London[3] to the Theatre and Performance gallery and leading my first ever tour and talk. After much ‘drama’ on the way to the museum, we finally made it. And what a surprise to see the recently opened display: Make/Believe: UK Design for Performance 2011-2015. This display revealed the diversity of performance design over the last four years and featured work from around the world each based on a different form of music: opera, dance, theatre, to pop music — the works will later be exhibited at the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space in June 2015. This display was both visually and aurally stimulating. I particularly liked the colourful ‘Wishing Tree’ against the vibrant blue background in a mini reproduction of the set for Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale designed by Bob Crowley which was staged at the Royal Opera House in 2014. The recreation of Mozart’s Don Giovanni also produced at the Royal Opera House the same year caught my eye: the rotating wooden set exhibited all of the different angles of the stage designed by Es Devlin. It was interesting to hear clips from Wagner’s Das Walküre and Das Rheingold which were both produced in 2013 at the Teatro Massimo in Palermo in Sicily. The display came to a close with a screening of the Paralympics Closing ceremony in London in 2012 featuring the likes of Rhianna and UCL’s very own Coldplay. So that brought me to the end of my gallery tour but did my students have any questions? Yes: where’s the Jewellery collection?


My students were drawn to the Jewellery gallery by the sparking bright lights from all the diamonds. Over 3,000 jewels are stored here from Ancient Greece to the present day: gold Celtic breastplate, medieval love rings, pendants, pocket watches, diamond tiaras. Transfixed by all the jewellery and glued to the screens demonstrating the preservation of certain pocket watches, my students did not want to leave the gallery. But one more stop to go!

Watch and Case, Jean Fazy, 1765 - 70

So on to our final destination: Fashion. Here, my students who specialize in fashion design took over the tour and enlightened me on all of the different garments. We sat in front of many modern dresses and my students were able to comment on the design, designer, and historical period. In the midst of the gallery was the recently opened exhibition Shoes: Pleasure and Pain. This exhibition presents approximately 200 pairs of shoes ranging from sandals from ancient Egypt to more extreme forms of footwear by today’s fashion designers, taking into consideration the cultural significance and technology now available to produce such designs. What an incredible tour — theatre, jewellery and fashion all in one day. Just one of the many perks of combining the teaching profession with such an incredible museum.


Platform Shoes, Vivian Westwood, 1993