The invite was good; an evening for the launch, with a friend, of the new-look British Museum online shop, to explore the Collecting the World gallery out-of-hours, meet the artisans and designers behind the unique products and to enjoy complimentary drinks and canapés.
After going through the bright and well-lit shop, attempting to display in a huge room beyond it with almost non-existent lighting were Nicholas Humphrey-Smith of the Ancestors group with beautiful hand crafted reproductions of some Museum artefacts, Sima Vaziry showing her exquisite jewellery and Mia Sarosi presenting lovely porcelain ceramics. But how Britain’s No.1 tourist attraction with 6.22 visitors last year could show this work in such abysmal lighting conditions is beyond me. It was so bad I decided not to even bother to take photos.
When we left it was somewhat eerie to find the Great Hall entirely devoid of people as every one of the many times I’ve been previously it has been like Piccadilly Circus, packed with people and the loud hubbub of voices.On talking to the security guy, a very pleasant one for a change, he told me that once when he and a colleague were checking all the many rooms to see if anyone was still present after closing, they got to the main door to leave and found themselves locked in. It took them about an hour before they managed to find someone to come and let them out.
As he was telling me this I had the thought of the exhibits coming to life and having a party. In the Egyptian rooms the Pharaohs were doing a Wilson, Keppel and Betty sand dance while in the Elgin Marbles room they were dancing around to Mikis Theodorakis’s ‘Zorba the Greek’.
In many ways the unoccupied Great Hall reminded me of empty theatres of which I have experienced many. There is an atmosphere in them of all the things that have happened in that space. The most personal one for me being the Theatre Royal Drury Lane where my father had been manager for 26 years. I don’t believe in ghosts but once when I was in his office above the main entrance late at night after the show years ago, all the lights went out and I had to grope my way along the walls to get to the pass door to the sage which did have some lights on, it was all quite scary. He told me that the next morning when he went I, a lot of the paintings were at odd angles where I’d groped my along them in pitch darkness.
So I know from experience what these places usually full of people can be like when they have gone home, spooky to say the least.
(C) Jeremy Hoare 2018