Sunday, 21 July 2013

Performing for the King - at the Banqueting House

Last Thursday I was fortunate enough to preview a new exhibition ‘Performing for theKing’ at London’s Banqueting House, Whitehall. To be fair, ‘exhibition’ is too static a word to describe this event since there is movement and music, costumes to try on as well as period characters that mingle with the visitors. With deliberately subdued lighting to recreate the atmosphere of 17th century candlelight,  this is anything but a walk-and-read display.

A model of Inigo Jones's contraption for lowering the queen
out of a cloud
The aspect that most fired my imagination were Inigo Jones set designs and his use of early special effects. But first, a little background about ‘Performing for the King’ the creation of a court masque. The aim of the Banqueting House’s curator, Jane Spooner, is to give the visitor a sense of what went on behind the scenes at a 17th century masque and a taste of the atmosphere.

Jones' innovative use of newly 'discovered' perspective.
 To illustrate this Jane recreates part of the 1620 production of Tempe Restored. This masque (a play with music and dancing) was a sort of Stuart propaganda piece, pushing the message of the Stuart’s as a uniting monarchy, bringing peace to a troubled England and Scotland. The extravagant spectacle was designed to amaze and awe, but of course this carried a commensurate price tag. For the ordinary working man looking in from the outside, the cost of such masques must have rubbed salt into the wound of their day-to-day hardships.

Another of Inigo Jones' set designs.
 One of the most eye-catching things about Tempe Restored was the innovative set design by Inigo Jones. For maximum impact the main players (the King and Queen playing the parts of Apollo and Diana) were to descend from the heavens in a cloud. To achieve this Ingio Jones created a piece of scenery worked by pulleys and powered by teams of strong men. Don’t forget this was in a time before hydraulics and engines, so any heavy lifting had to be done by muscle power. These moving elements were heavy and dangerous - and made a lot of noise which was disguised by playing loud music.

The screen before which the actors perform
Inigo Jones used tricks of perspective, (a recent ‘invention’), as well as layering, lighting and masking to transform a 2-D stage into a 3-D drama. The clever people at the Banqueting House give the visitor a feel for these effects with Monty Pythonesque slides of scenery projected on the stage backdrop as the performance takes place.
The great man himself - Inigo Jones.
Meet him at Performing for the King!

To find out more click on Performing for the King - open from July 19th to September 1st 2013.

You can also chat to Inigo Jones himself on Twitter – simply tweet @ask_inigo and include a hashtag #man #woman #boy or #girl – to enrol yourself a character in the masque.

Once again, I’d like to extend my thanks to the Historic Royal Palaces organisation, and especially John Shevlin, for inviting me to this preview.
Even I got into the spirit of things and tried on a ruff!

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