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West End captured in half century of images

Published 5 November 2008

A new exhibition collecting 50 years of images from theatrical photographer Reg Wilson opened at the Playhouse theatre yesterday. Titled Capturing The Moment, the display includes some of the most iconic West End images of the 20th century.

In the basement bar of the Playhouse theatre, away from the outlandish trappings of the venue’s current production La Cage Aux Folles, a world of colourful, dramatic theatre history has been opened up with the display of Wilson’s images. From Olivier and Gielgud to Crawford and Cooney, Wilson photographed all of the West End’s leading stars during his distinguished career.

This collection, which is open to the public for a limited time, brings just a fraction of his staggering 800,000 theatre photographs together in one place, tracing the recent history of both London theatre and of theatrical photography. It is staged as part of the Society of London Theatre’s centenary celebrations and also marks Wilson’s 70th birthday.  

At the centre of the exhibition lies the iconic 1985 image of Princess Diana dancing on the stage of the Royal Opera House with Wayne Sleep, an image which struck such a chord with the nation, capturing a moment and a spirit, that Wilson joked as he talked to Official London Theatre yesterday, it “earned me a small fortune ever since”.

Among the other striking images on display for a limited time before being returned to the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Theatre Collection include Michael Gambon and Simon Russell Beale in Volpone at the National Theatre, and Antony Sher starring in Richard III (pictured), which Wilson describes as one of his favourites. In the case of this exhibition, however, that describes most of the images on display: “These pictures are my favourite pictures, my favourite shows and my favourite people; just some of the things that I remember, that I enjoyed doing.”

At yesterday’s opening, attended by many of London theatre’s most influential characters, Society of London Theatre (SOLT) President Nica Burns said the work of theatre photographers was so important because: “They have to make that moment that they catch still feel alive when you look at the photograph. When you look at the exhibition of Reg Wilson’s wonderful work, you realise why he was so special, because he really does capture the moment.”

Capturing The Moment is open at the Playhouse theatre in the evenings for the audience of La Cage Aux Folles, and on 12, 17, 26 November, 2 and 12 December between 11:00 and 16:00. More information can be found on our Activities And Events page, where new viewing dates will be announced.

MA

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