This week, Charlotte and I managed to do The Lost Palace experience. I’ve known about The Lost Palace since Timothy Powell told me about the idea back in late 2014/2015.
The concept: Bring Europe’s largest palace ‘back to life’ 300 years after it burnt to the ground. Hear, touch and feel the past using new immersive technology.
The technology is what I was most interested in. The Lost Palace started with an open call for proposals from makers, creators, dreamers, technologist and more. There were 5 £10,000 proposals available. Their remit was relatively lose:
Whitehall Palace was the site of some of the most iconic and dramatic events in British history, until it burnt down 300 years ago. The challenge is to create evocative, digitally-enabled experiences of its extraordinary stories as ‘history where it happened’ on Whitehall’s modern streets.
We want people to sense these lost spaces and encounter the characters that once inhabited them: to immerse themselves in the stories of these Tudor and Stuart worlds. We want to turn today’s ‘Corridors of Power’ into playful spaces where history is performed and participated in.
There were a few proposals that were short-listed and what I found interesting was a couple of the submissions were asked to merge with what was essentially their competition. But it worked!
I was fortunate to see some of the prototypes last year and even in their raw state you could just tell this was the start of something amazing. While the prototypes were fascinating, it wasn’t until walking the tour yesterday did I truly understand the power of what HRP built with The Lost Palace.
When you enter Banqueting House you are provided with headphones and a very nice, smooth piece of wood that is about 5-6 inches high and looks like a very fancy door stop. The headphones go into this wood and there is a lanyard so it can go over your head leaving you to be hands free. When you’re provided with the items, you’re told that around the tour you will use the wood as a way to get information and also at one point it’ll be a sword. Yup, a sword. At this point we’re starting to understand this isn’t a normal museum tour.
We wait in an area in Banqueting House before a PA system warns you the tour will begin and to put your headphones on. Charlotte and I do and via the headphones are told to move to the map. The headphones provide binaural 360 surround sound which at first takes a second or two to get used to. HRP allow this time as they start the story around the map where you’re standing (and not walking/moving).
We then went outside and were told to stand in front of the building. A character than said something like ‘Excuse me!’ like she was working her way through a crowd. I moved out of her way! Yes, I moved out of a fictional character way – that is how immersive the sound makes you feel.
You’re then asked to walk down the road towards the Ministry of Defence. Charlotte and I had been here early about an hour before our tour and although noticed a few structures we didn’t realize they were part of #TheLostPalace! How wonderful those not doing the tour can still have a chance to play and learn along the way?
Without giving too much away, the wood item was used to launch stories, find and eavesdrop into conversations, fight a battle, feel/experience King Charles heartbeat and more.
The storytelling is second to none. There are many morsels of information provided along the way, it’s non-stop but not overwhelming. Some of the key items you learn about:
- A Secret Marriage – Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn were married in a secret wedding service in a room above the Holbein Gate on 25 January 1533.
- Gunpowder Revelations – Returning to Whitehall from a hunting trip in 1605, James I was shown a strange letter warning of a ‘terrible blow’ at Parliament.
- Shakespeare at Court – Shakespeare premiered and performed many of his plays at Whitehall including Othello, Measure for Measure and King Lear.
- A Royal Execution – The king processed through St James’s Park to the sound of drums, and with an escort of guards.
- Fire and Destruction – On 4 January 1698 a fire started from laundry left drying over some charcoal, quickly spreading across the densely built palace.
At one point, you’re asked to choose where you want the story to go – we chose the Cock Fight and we weren’t disappointed.
Then the wood piece started to beat. Charlotte and I both agree this was quite intense and emotional. Your head knows it’s just a piece of wood but the storytelling added to the heart beating in your hands is very emotive!
You end the experience back at Banqueting House and yes, we did do the dance (it helped that we had the place to ourselves).
When Timothy first told me about his idea for #TheLostPalace I had an idea it would be fascinating but never in a million years would I have expected for the experience to be so thrilling! The technology is creative but you truly forget about it as you’re so immersed in the storytelling.
This experience is highly recommended for 2016 – book your tickets soon as it only on until September 4th.