Staging the Henrician Court : Reflections on August 2009 performance - costume, music, lighting and set

This page last changed on Jan 20, 2010 by Eleanor Rycroft.


Costume became one of the most successful elements of the production.  Largely because of the designer’s colour scheme, it appeared as if the tapestries of the Great Hall had come to life; as if the very Hall had become three-dimensional.  All of the costumes appeared of a piece and were coherent, but were also distinct and individual.  By evoking the sense that the characters related to the features Hall we came close to realising the way in which performers in Tudor revels would have been among the audience itself, although in our case it appeared that they had come forth from the walls.   

The costumes also worked in terms of light as well as space.  On the performance of Friday 7th August, a happy accident occurred when a golden light filtered through the stained glass windows of the Great Hall and paralleled the gold of Jupiter’s beard during his opening speech.  The artifice of theatre was temporarily suspended as Jupiter appeared to emerge from and merge with his surroundings.


One of the most exciting elements of the production was that one of our actors, Peter Kenny,  in association with Chris Goodwin of the Lute Society, may have uncovered the original Gentlewoman’s song in a collection of Heywood’s lyrics.  We eventually included this song (called ‘What heart can think or tongue express’) as arranged in four parts by Dr Ian Payne.  This discovery certainly indicates that the original performers of the piece were also singers, although whether they were Gentlemen or Children of the Chapel is still obscure. Beyond this, the writing of music for each person in the piece aided characterisation and helped to introduce type for the audience.  The arrangements were authentic, as were the instruments used.  The musical director, Tamsin Lewis, gives an excellent account of the musical sources in her filmed interview on this website if you require further information regarding the score.


After long discussion, the use of the house lights proved successful.  The only aspect of performance which may have suffered was Jupiter’s visibility, as there was no lighting in his tent.  The choices were dictated by production of the play in the summer and the abundance of natural light, but further research into the effects of candlelight and torches could prove fruitful in 2010. 

Set Design:

The traverse and throne proved successful both for the production and for Hampton Court at large, providing the opportunity for knowledge transfer in its stimulation of visitors’ interest in the production.  The design accorded with the architecture and splendour of the Hall and fulfilled the brief of mimicking the traverses of a King, and the tents of the Field of the Cloth of Gold.  There were opportunities for comedy when Jupiter poked his head out of the tent to listen to Merry Report.  And yet the tent proved a consistent resource for indicating the formality of access to Jupiter, his separation from the other characters, and omniscient presence, even when he was not visible.

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