Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Richard III: A Day of Dynasty, Death and Discovery at the Visitors Centre and the clever use of Light.


King Richard III is known to have stayed at Leicester Castle in 1483, he arrived just a few weeks after being crowned King of England. On the 18th of August, Richard III arrived in the City of Leicester and exactly 531 years to the day, I arrived there too.
Parking our car on the second level of a multi story car park, we could look down on all the continuing building work and see the spire of the Cathedral Church of St Martin in the distance. Walking through the newly paved streets we found ourselves in the grounds of St Martins, and standing with our backs to the cathedrals arched entrance we could see Richard III's statue, recently taken from Castle Gardens, standing in front of the entrance to the new visitors centre. This is what we had come back to Leicester to see following a day spent at the re enactment of the Battle of Bosworth the day before. We arrived at are pre booked time slot refreshed and eager.

 I was amazed how tasteful this new build is and how the glass and the brass effect complemented the red brick buildings of the of Grammar School on its left and the buildings that make up St Martins on its right.  The entrance is large and airy and incorporates the gift shop where you can purchase all the books you will ever need if you wish study the the life of king himself. There are a few gift items, and I emphasize the word few, such as mugs, key rings, pencils etc all the things that you usually find in any exhibition and it is nice to see that there is no 'tat' or cheap plastic rubbish aimed at children.

The exhibition is called Dynasty, Death and Discovery and it truly lives up to its name, anyone who doesn't know anything King Richard will understand the basics by the time they leave. As I am familiar with Richards story I found that I could wander around and enjoy the experience rather than spend too much time reading all the very informative, well presented, exhibits and displays. I will not tell you too much about them and spoil your enjoyment, but they cover Richards life, the archaeological dig, and there is a nice exhibit covering all the actors who have played Richard in film or television.

Although we were two among many I never felt rushed or that I should move along onto the next section. The whole place has a calmness and serene feel to it especially Richard's grave area, which I thought was cleverly lit with natural light, it is sensitively presented. Quite rightly, you cannot stand on or walk over the kings grave, but what you can do is look down and reflect on his death and his life with respect, or sit and chat to others on seating that is a little further back.
For those who have been mean and uttered nasty and uncalled for remarks about this exhibition with statements such as

               "Absolutely ghastly – words fail me. What a way to treat an anointed King of England"

should be ashamed of themselves, especially if they have never visited.

Look at my two photograph and consider the fact that the people behind this exhibition have had Richard's own words, the words he himself wrote in his Book of Hours carved in stone above his grave. These people should be commended not criticised,

 "Lord Jesus Christ, deign to free me, your servant King Richard, from every tribulation, sorrow and trouble in which I am placed."  
The Richard III exhibition is not your normal medieval exhibition, there are no old objects from the past, no ripped or faded tapestries, no musty smells of age, it is a modern, highly technical, interactive interpretation of a dynasty, a death and a discovery that I thoroughly enjoyed, especially as I had forgotten all about the reconstruction of Richards skull until it suddenly appeared from behind a clearing opaque glass screen right in front of me!  
I am greatly impressed by the thought that has gone into this build, an old bay window has been replaced with a large glass balcony where you can stand and look out over a garden and the brick wall that once separated the now famous car park from the Grammar School. This wall has now been rebuilt in sandstone which blends in well with the glass walls and ceilings of the building. 

I had a enjoyable and relaxed couple of hours topped off with a rather nice cup of tea and a slice of cake in the cafe and would give the exhibition four out of five stars only because there were a couple of things that could be improved.........no not improved, tweaked. The writing on the wall above Richards grave is difficult to read, maybe the letters could be in gold, so they stand out more, the area covering the Battle of Bosworth could be a little bit lighter and some audio exhibit are a bit difficult to hear, but that's about it.
 My money and time was well spent.

Leicester's exhibition The Story of King Richard III: Dynasty, Death and Discovery is of course about looking back, but also has a great emphasis on looking forward and this is cleverly done, and not necessarily though its interpretation of Richards story, but through its modern, airy architectural designed building that places Richard III and his future story in a completely new light.

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