Performing for the King at Banqueting House in Whitehall

By Sarah Jackson | 24 July 2013

Exhibition preview: Performing for the King: The Making of a Court Masque, Banqueting House, London, until September 1 2013

Four people in Stuart costume
© Historic Royal Palaces
This temporary family-friendly exhibition allows visitors to experience the most lavish entertainment of the early Stuart Court and discover how draughtsman and architect Inigo Jones created his remarkable masques.

There are also opportunities to try on costumes, learn a Renaissance dance and witness rehearsals for the performance.

Although masques were not a new concept to the Stuarts, during the reigns of James I and Charles I they became a particular form of court entertainment: part ball, amateur theatrical play and fancy dress party.

Their purpose was not to merely entertain but to express the Stuart concept of kingship and messages about royal authority, responsibility and privileges.

The first section was a play performed by professional actors called an ‘anti-masque’ which depicted a world of discord and vice tempered with comic elements.

In the second part, the audience would rise up and dance in order to banish disorder and usher in harmony. This would merge into a ball, with members of the court dancing the whole night long.

Today’s visitors will discover how workshops created the incredible sets, mechanical devices and lighting effects used to bring masques to life. Some of Inigo Jones’ innovations (including moving scenery and stage wings) are elements still used in modern theatre.

Key characters from King Charles’ court will reveal further secrets of the masques created for him and his wife Queen Henrietta Maria.

Visitors have the chance to experience a rehearsal for a part of Tempe Restored, the last masque performed at the Banqueting Hall in 1635. Jones will share his vision, which will come alive through a series of projections and invite visitors to watch or participate as they wish.

There is also an opportunity for visitors to become proficient court dancers or try on replica theatre costumes – a must if you have ever wondered how you would look wearing the head dress of an ass or wolf.

For those after a quieter experience, a small ‘chill-out’ zone gives visitors the chance to relax on beanbags to admire Ruben’s painted ceiling – the only surviving in-situ ceiling painting from the artist and one of the last things King Charles I saw before he was executed on a scaffold outside the Banqueting Hall.

A temporary café in the Undercroft has been opened to serve cakes, sandwiches and refreshments to revive any would-be courtiers.

More pictures:

Reproductions of Stuart court costumes.
© Historic Royal Palaces
Interior shot of Performing for the King exhibition.
© Historic Royal Palaces
Interior shot of Performing for the King exhibition
© Historic Royal Palaces
Visit Sarah Jackson's blog and follow her on Twitter.
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