For centuries, London’s historic royal palace, Hampton Court, has been home to many monarchs. Now it is inhabited each day with a new set of visitors. Last year, the palace celebrated its five hundredth anniversary through drama by setting up micro plays within the palace and grounds. These time-plays consisted of actors portraying historical figures such as King Henry VIII through fictitious conversations while clothed in traditional dress.
In the words of historical critic Mark Auslander, re-enactments touch on the past through the use of objects, either historical artefacts or replica props. In this instance, the location and costumes encouraged the actors to envisage themselves fully as their character, which evoked a more truthful portrayal to the audience. Through this royal space, the grandeur of Hampton Court brought contrasting historical eras to life, thus transporting all spectators, both young and old, back in time.
Inspired by real people and events, playwright Elizabeth Kuti wrote scripts in order to link the past to the present. The characters created ranged from living between 1486 and 1948 and, through use of language suited specifically to each time period (such as saying ‘thou’ instead of ‘you’), the enactments were made even more authentic. For example, one play depicted The King’s Men rehearsing for the first performance of Macbeth; when speaking the lines of Shakespeare and discussing the scene, the actors would use very specific language and phrases, befitting of speech used in 1606.
The palace was also filled with royal portraits, depicting wealth, social status and power. An actress dressed as Anne Boleyn walked throughout the palace, viewing the traditional oil-paintings (which included her own portraits) and this eerily and effectively created the illusion that she truly lived there.
Hampton Court’s theatrical recreation of the past is valuable in terms of educating children. Staging plays within this iconic building is an engaging and inventive way to help children retain historical knowledge through their visual and auditory memory. So when you think Hampton Court, think history, monarchy and drama!