Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe, Gloucestershire
PUBLISHED: 15:53 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:55 20 February 2013
Work is underway at sudeley castle on this year's big production, featuring Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
I left off February's column deliberating on whether to join my friends on what has become an annual holiday house party in Goa, or to buckle down to the business in hand at Sudeley - mounting this year's exhibition to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's accession to the throne.
Well, not surprisingly, I chose the Goan option and while the rest of Gloucestershire was slipping and sliding and digging itself out of snowdrifts, I was basking in glorious sunshine with my book in hand, often accompanied by an exotic cocktail, and giving barely a fleeting thought to poor Henry VIII and his struggles with Queens, priests and issues of monarchy.
How quickly the landscape can change however, and today, under grey skies and groggy with jetlag, I donned my overalls and immersed myself in acrylic paint and bunting as assistant to our talented 'in house' artist Katie Morgan. Katie is a local freelance artist, but over the years she has helped in the creation and mounting of so many of Sudeley's projects that we like to think of her as our own resident artist. She has the amazing ability to interpret a vague wave of hand and idea of mine into a thoroughly exciting and professional result.
This year's production will not disappoint. We have a great and little known intrigue to illustrate which involves two of history's most celebrated characters, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. I will say no more lest I spoil the surprise, but events took place in Winchcombe in 1535 which changed the course of English history forever.
Creating exhibitions around some of the extraordinary events and people that the Castle has hosted over its long history has been a fascinating and enjoyable part of my life and work here. As a self- proclaimed production manager, I have had the most incredible material to work with. Who couldn't tell a good tale with the likes of Richard III, Henry VIII and his six wives, Queen Elizabeth I, King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, (to name but a few), walking on and off stage at various decades in the Sudeley story. Emma Dent, the Victorian chatelaine, was fortunately so fascinated by the Castle's past owners, their lives and customs, that she did much of the groundwork in researching and collecting the historical and personal items which we use to illustrate the 'drama' that is on view here today.
Having been dragged around dry and musty old museums in my youth and endured the whingeing of my own children when a visit to a 'stately' was suggested , I have tried to present Sudeley's art, treasures and history in a different and entertaining way. I was introduced to this theatrical concept of presentation when Mark and I first decided to open the Castle to the public in 1970. Despite the wealth of historical paintings, artefacts and treasures, it didn't seem very interesting as it stood and we consulted the well- known theatre and opera designer and friend Adam Pollock for ideas. Little did we realise where Adam's imagination and talent would take us.
The result was 'Royal Sudeley', a unique and exciting indoor interactive adventure through the history of Sudeley - meeting its protagonists head on, whether in the privacy of Katherine Parr's bedroom, walking the steps to the scaffold with Thomas Seymour, mourning with Lady Jane Gray at Katherine's funeral or dancing at the three-day celebration given for Queen Elizabeth's visit in the autumn of 1592. 'Royal Sudeley' was proclaimed throughout the land as a most original presentation of historical material and Sudeley's reputation was on its way. The show went on for several years but eventually the gargantuan computer that ran it (taking up a whole room) became obsolete and it was necessary to move on to new attractions. At any rate I learned my trade under a master which has given me inspiration for the many exhibitions that followed Royal Sudeley and now brings us up to this year's celebration.
Well, all talk and no action... I had better roll up my sleeves and get back to work if we are to open on time.
Sudeley is open daily from 10.30am to 5.00pm from Monday 30th March. Visit the website at www.sudeleycastle.co.uk for more information on our glorious gardens, rare breed pheasantry, fascinating exhibitions, and fabulous play area and how to find us.