Students Staff

08 January 2016

Essex playwright becomes Writer-in-Residence at Hampton Court Palace

After incredible success over the past year with her TimePlays for the Historic Royal Palaces, award-winning playwright and lecturer in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies Elizabeth Kuti has been asked to take on the role of Writer-in-Residence at Hampton Court Palace.

TimePlays was the centrepiece of the public programme celebrating Hampton Court Palace’s 500th Anniversary this year. The specially-commissioned site-specific micro dramas were performed throughout the site between April and September when the palace had more than 400,000 visitors.

The intelligent, lively, visceral dialogue Elizabeth created helped enhance how visitors understood the stories of the monarchs and people who once inhabited the palace, the wider sweep of history and their own place within it.

An outstanding creative team and acting company were brought together to bring Elizabeth work to life including theatre director Pia Furtado (RSC, Royal Court, Scottish Opera); movement director Anna Morrissey (RSC, National Theatre, London2012 opening ceremony) and music director Ian Watts.

The plays received incredibly positive feedback with 97% of visitors saying their visit had been significantly enhanced by TimePlays and 87% saying they were more likely to recommend a visit to Hampton Court Palace having seen TimePlays.

We spoke to Elizabeth about her new role, how she will build on the success of TimePlays and the stories she is getting ready to tell.

Can you tell us a little bit about your new role?

So my new role is as Writer-in-Residence which sadly doesn’t mean I actually get to live in a Palace, but I’ll have a whole year of working with Historic Royal Palaces, and specifically Hampton Court Palace, to write dramas and micro-plays, and just whatever they need really over these 12 months. So I’m writing a whole set of new short plays to be performed from Easter and throughout the summer, which this year is called Encounters with the Past and this time they are mainly focused on the Tudor period, and also the court of George II. So I’ll be writing scenes that visitors to the Palace will stumble upon or find erupting suddenly out of rooms they enter. I’m also writing a scene about Shakespeare and the Great Hall…

What are you most excited about?

Well I’m very excited about the Shakespeare scene especially as it is the actual physical space where Shakespeare himself performed, and his company the Kings Men. It’s not a replica like the Globe – it’s the actual space in all its glory, pretty much as it was in Shakespeare’s day. Last summer I wrote a kind of raucous comedy about Macbeth, which probably got its very first ever performance at the Great Hall… and 2016 is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death so I know Hampton Court Palace want a meaty scene about Shakespeare so I’m rather thrilled about that opportunity. I love the idea of Hamlet at Hampton Court Palace and the possibility of King James watching an actor play a king, watching an actor play a king… all those reflecting mirrors get even more intricate when you think of Hamlet being performed to the king and the court… holding a mirror up to nature… so that’s a spoiler and a giveaway about what I’m planning!

What does it feel like to be creating material for Hampton Court Palace?

Very thrilling as I remember going there when I was 10 on a school trip and the impression its made on me! You are creating memories and experiences for people that they may never forget. And you are playing for thousands and thousands of people.. And you are trying to awaken a sense of fascination and awe about time, and history, and the ghosts of the long-dead, and to muse on what it means to be a king. And what power means. The whole ‘performative’ aspect of monarchy is fascinating to me. And then I also want a political awareness in the work – it’s not an unquestioning ‘celebration’ of our ‘heritage’ – I think we have to ask deeper questions and be more critical. But the first step is to awaken interest – and delight. Then the rest can follow. There is a brilliant artistic team at Hampton Court Palace headed by Deborah Shaw and Cat Buffery, and there are also very skilled interpreters, a company called Past Pleasures, who improvise and bring history to life in a very one-to- one and fluid way, and their work is fantastic. Theatre in a museum or heritage site can do something different – it can bring beautiful language, and it can bring argument and interpretation in a different way – and it can access the emotions and go to some more hidden areas.

Have you uncovered any interesting stories about the Palace?

Lots. Including the secret of how not to get lost in the Maze which I won’t tell you as it takes the fun out of it!! I love the stories of Elizabeth I and what she got up to .. and the dramas of Civil War, the imprisonment of Charles I and then his escape is an absolutely brilliant story and there should SO be a film about it.

Have you ever created material for other unusual locations?

I worked with Annie Ryan’s company Corn Exchange in Dublin quite some years ago and we created plays that were performed inside cars, with the actors in the front seat and 2 -3 audience members squished in the back! Bono from U2 lent the company one of his cars. The year I was involved we did the show in London parked next to the Cutty Sark, of all places, and Susannah Clapp in The Observer, chose it as one of her five top shows of the year 2000! And I was heavily pregnant and performing so could hardly get inside the driving seat! Happy days!

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