Imagine for a moment you are put in charge of a tourist attraction that no longer exists. In fact it hasn’t existed for over 300 years when it burnt to the ground, what do you do? Refresh Facebook while hoping your bosses come to their senses? Hope someone invents time travel? Well if you’re in the Royal Palaces team the answer is to tackle this extraordinary challenge head on through a mixture of performance, technology and a fair few ingenious surprises.
The Banqueting House is already one of my favourite places in London, the room is absolutely stunning and also just happens to be the one remaining part of the old Whitehall Palace that is open to the public. The cellar of this building is where you start your adventure into the ‘lost palace’ of Whitehall. You are given headphones which are connected to what appears to be a wooden block with a ‘burnt’ black end, however what looks like a burnt piece of wood is actually your portal back in time. Music initially sets the scene and as soon as it’s time for you group to begin your virtual guide will introduce themselves over the headset and lead you to the first stop on your journey, where the history of the area is presented with a combination of sound, light and projection. From here you are sent out onto the streets with your virtual guide as you track the grounds of what would have been Whitehall palace.
Now this could be a normal audio guided tour but this is where The Lost Palace really come into it’s own. As you are guided to each point along the way your wooden block will be used for various differing things, sometimes tapped to burnt objects to play audio, sometimes used as a listening device to overhear conversations by pointing into windows, it’s even used as a sword at one point, and the beating heart of a king that you can actually feel in your hands! This is what really puts this tour above and beyond what is available elsewhere, it is truly immersive in a way I have never experienced before on a semi self-guided tour. The binaural sound is so well done it’s almost impossible to tell what sounds are recorded and what is external. There’s other unexpected surprises too, let’s just say inconspicuous passes by might be more than they appear… I don’t want to give too much away but it adds to the captivating allure of this unique tour.
It just so happens that the Stuart period and Restoration history is my favourite time period to gain knowledge about so I already know many of the stories being presented here, but the way this was communicated made this really special, the voice acting was incredible. Even with my prior knowledge (I wrote my dissertation on the dramatic representations of the 2nd Earl of Rochester *adjusts glasses*) I still learned something and I think this would be great for people will all levels of knowledge of the age.
After exploring the outside portion of your tour it concludes in the main Banqueting Hall where you are invited to relax on the seats or bean bags (expertly shown here by Leanne of Broke in the Big Smoke) to take in one of the most gorgeous ceilings you will ever see. It’s awesome in the true sense of the world and will be accompanied by the sounds of the real court from around the time of Whitehall Place to end your tour on a high.
The Lost Palace is on until the 5th of September and you can get your tickets here, the evening tour is £15 per adult or £12 for the more family friendly daytime tours with £6 for child’s tickets.