Garry Shaw and Christoph Scholz at TEM 2015
Thank God it’s Friday
Posted on October 9, 2015
Introducing Garry’s Soapbox
“Stan's Soapbox” was a monthly column written by Marvel Comics’ mastermind Stan Lee in the 1960’s and 1970’s. So, when journalist Garry Shaw joined our Touring Exhibitions News team, we could think of no better title than “Garry’s Soapbox” for his monthly column; it's an homage to Stan Lee, since we at SC Exhibitions are big comic fans.
Garry’s first column will appear today in place of my “Thank God it’s Friday” blog, and from mid-November onwards, he’ll have his own column on our websites: www.touringexhibitions.org and www.sc-exhibitions.com
Welcome, dear Garry Shaw!
Get Dressed by Angels
Thanks Christoph for your introduction, and hello and welcome to Garry’s Soapbox!
In this new culture blog, I’ll be taking a look into the world of exhibitions, exploring some new openings and the big touring shows, as well as some of the less covered aspects of exhibitions, from promotional posters, to the technology used to bring the displays alive. I’ll also take a look at the creative process, and the people behind some of your favourite shows.
For this, the first edition of my blog, I figured that it’d be smart to get some divine help, and what better way than to visit the new Dressed by Angels exhibition, which just opened at the Old Truman Brewery in London. There, until 3rd January 2016, you’ll find a large selection of costumes from stage and film, created by the famous costumiers, Angels, on Garrick Street.
Atmosphere is key for a show like this, and Dressed by Angels does a wonderful job of extracting you from the normal world and placing you into a realm of theatrics and fantasy. As you enter the venue, you’re surrounded by white walls and tall glass windows. Reality is stark and bright. But to enter the exhibition, you descend a set of steps into a dark space. Like stepping onto a stage, you pass through black curtains into a world of spotlights. This is to be a performance, and the costumes, basking in the lights, are the stars of the show.
As you pass through time, starting in the 19th century, part of the fun is not knowing what costume you’ll recognize next. Like me, you’ll notice a lot of chatter among visitors, who spot a costume in the distance, and as they walk over, try to figure out where they remember it from and who wore it (“didn’t Helen Mirren wear that?”, I heard one visitor say. “Is that the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist?” said another). I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that there’s costumes from such famous productions as A Clockwork Orange, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who and Downton Abbey on display, but there’s plenty more too, from the earliest days of cinema through to upcoming theatre productions.
But don’t get the impression that Dressed by Angels is just a fashion show. The information panels scattered throughout the first half of the exhibition, and less often afterwards, tell the story of the seven generations of the Angel family, and give general background on the time that they lived (one panel, for example, talks about immigration in Victorian London). The tone and length of these panels is just right – they set the context, and (quite surprisingly for interpretation panels) actually leave you searching for the next panel so you can pick up the story. As one visitor told me, “the exhibition is the story of a family and a company, told through its costumes.” This theme shines through, and adds to the sense of the exhibition as a story unfolding. Cleverly chosen “Did you know” facts, included on the costume labels, also add some extra fun as you walk from room to room.
The occasional video provides added context to how the costumes were used, something particularly important for outfits that might only be recognizable to British visitors. The Batman and Robin costumes from the BBC TV show Only Fools and Horses are good examples. Not every international visitor will know the famous scene where the characters Del Boy and Rodney run through the fog dressed as Batman and Robin, but the video clip is funny enough and striking enough to grab the visitor’s attention, and immediately conveys why these costumes are iconic. The video makes you smile, and gives you a stronger connection with the costumes.
Although for much of the journey, the exhibition is chronological, after you pass through a corridor filled with artists’ designs and meet the costumes from Titanic, the darkness lifts and you enter a bright open space predominantly filled with royal clothing. The story stops. There’s far less interpretation. The costumes now speak for themselves. With gentle classical music playing in the background, you’re invited to admire up-close the intricate details sewn into costumes made for performers playing such famous royal roles as Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria. The space is dominated by a stunning recreation of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation dress, which sparkles as you circle, but also make sure you don’t miss the beautiful costumes from Shakespeare in Love. As one visitor told me, “The ‘royal room’ gripped me because of the detail of the costumes. Someone clearly spent lots of time sewing them. The details! Someone poured their love and soul into each outfit, and it makes you just reach out to them.”
And what was my favourite bit? Perhaps turning a dark corner and finding Bloefeld from You Only Live Twice seated, his mannequin head appropriately scarred, stroking his white cat, illuminated by spotlight in his own little section. “Hello Mr. Bond” indeed! Or the moment when you can see Indiana Jones, Lawrence of Arabia, Obi-Wan Kenobi and costumes from Pirates of the Caribbean standing together at the same time, as if attending some heroic get-together.
Dressed by Angels is a theatre and film lover’s dream. While explaining the story of one costumiers, it allows us to stand beside our heroes from stage and screen, and reminds us of the effort and craftsmanship that goes on behind the scenes, all so we can escape for a short time from our everyday lives into another time or world.
Until next time!
Editor, SC Exhibitions
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