Well, after my press invite to the Tower of London to review Line of Kings, I came home foot sore, head full of cuirasses and codpieces, bursting with inspiration to blog my historical musings. I thought if I never get invited to another preview again, I will die happy. Low and behold, the very same evening I am invited to another historical gem. An altogether different event, a Court Masque at Banqueting House!
Now I come to distil my swirling thoughts, I must make an admission. I hang my head in shame for I had never been to Banqueting House in Whitehall before. Unlike Charles I who lost his head outside its Renaissance walls, my head is spinning from the spirit of a 17th century masque. Music, dancing, costumes, theatre and drama, a moment of living history in the most exquisite surroundings. Historic Royal Palaces and Past Pleasures have taken a bold step in presenting a 400 year old courtly tradition to our modern sensibilities.
The Banqueting House, built in 1622, is easily overlooked on your journey from Trafalgar Square to Westminster, amongst Whitehall’s 21st century corridors of power it sits stately yet unassuming. The last remaining complete building of Whitehall Palace, it has featured in power plays and propaganda for centuries. In its day it would have stood, loud and proud, a stone built offering to the divinity of Kings and the Stuart dynasty. Once abutted with red Tudor brick and timber, you have to stand outside and imagine it’s power, the theatre beginning with the first glance before you even reach the inner sanctum.
Inigo Jones, surveyor of work to King Charles I and creative director of the masque is the puppet master here. He may be commissioned by Kings and Queens but it is in his power to marry divinity and virtue, power and spectacle, in a theatrical endeavour that utilised to the full, visuals, sound and senses.
Historic Royal Palaces have given us a contemporary interpretation of “Tempe Restored”, last performed at the Banqueting House in 1632. We are here for the court of King Charles I, we can meet Queen Henrietta Maria and mingle with her courtiers. I have brought my husband with me today, we are excited (not just because our children are at school) and enter with trepidation. First we see the undercroft and cafe, cool and inviting a world away from the hustle and bustle of hot London pavements.
But we can’t wait, we move with speed but as much stately grace as we can muster. We enter the Banqueting Hall, we are blown away by the stunning Rubens ceiling. There may be a masque being prepared below, but above us the masque is already in full swing.
We are momentarily dumbstruck by its power and beauty, the whole room is atmospherically lit, we glimpse beautiful costumes recreated from original Inigo Jones sketches. There is music too, beautiful, enticing it draws you in and begins to erase our modern cares.
This is an experience to share, we learn a Spanish sarabande, we are ready for the masque. Inigo Jones’ musings are set with intricate visuals, today using the latest technology but still able to mirror the mastery of Jones’ own moving scenery. We are enticed into the world of harmony and courtly graces.
There is something missing here, it is our children. I know the eldest would have headed straight for the chillout zone, to lay supine on a bean bag and soak up the music and admire the Rubens ceiling.
The middle child would not be able to resist designing her own costumes and stage sets with the beautifully drawn interactives.
The youngest would wish to dress the part with opulent costumes, the ultimate adult and child dressing up box.
I love the way Historic Royal Palaces are presenting to us an historical oddity in an innovative and inviting way. There is the opportunity to interact on many levels, the masque was not purely theatre but the social media of its time, connecting with the court and delivery messages on royal authority, responsibilities and privileges. Sensitive to the demands of today’s visitors the digital media team have turned to Twitter and used it an engaging way for the historical tourist. You can message Inigo Jones and he will give you your own character to play, I was cast as a Nymph for the chorus (good job they haven’t heard me sing!).
There are many layers to ‘Performing for the King’ at Banqueting House, you can enjoy the theatre and spectacle, you can take in the music and visuals or you can simply soak up the atmosphere. Whether you are a gross beast or celestial being you can enter into the spirit of the masque, banishing the disorder of the world outside to rise up like our 17th century ancestors and take part in the dance.
Opening times Monday – Sunday 10:00 – 17:00
Last admission 16:15
Performing for the King at Banqueting House 19 July – 1 September 2013
If you wish to more fully participate in the Court Masque there is a special event on Saturday 27th July – ‘Tempe Restored’ tickets from http://www.hrp.org.uk/BanquetingHouse/WhatsOn/temperestored