Category Archives: Live Interpretation

Bodiam on the telly and another year’s work

A new TV series ‘Castles: Britain’s Fortified History’ ( starts tonight at 9pm on BBC4. The series is presented by Dr Sam Willis. The programmes trace the story of Britain’s castles and their unique role in our history, art and literature (it says).

Bodiam Castle features in next week’s episode on 11th December. I was there when they shot the scene but I don’t know if I make the final cut!

Also on TV (but not featuring Bodiam) is ‘Secrets of the castle with Ruth, Peter and Tom‘ on BBC2. Episodes 2 & 3 are still available on iPlayer and episodes 4 and 5 are still to come. It’s an excellent series set at Guédelon in Burgundy. Guédelon is a fantastic project – they are building a 13th century castle from scratch using (as far as possible) original techniques. The project is scheduled to take 25 years to complete. We saw a scene being filmed when we were there in September.

Meanwhile December at the castle means lots of work. It’s also a lot colder all of a sudden. We’re not grumbling though* – Winter can be a lonely time of year for a live interpreter at the castle. Most shifts at the moment are solo affairs and visitor numbers naturally drop away. December means working with colleagues and lots of excited visitors. I hope it sets us up for our first January with 7-day-a-week opening for many years.

This season has seen many changes at the castle, many of them in live interpretation. We’ve stepped up what we offer and on the whole it has been successful. The increased live interpretation element has been extended through most of next season. This will, I hope, allow us to consolidate and improve what we have achieved.

* Not too much.

Inside Kent Magazine

The team get a mention on page 106 of May’s Inside Kent Magazine, which is nice. The relevant paragraph says…

To add to the charm of the castle, there are a number of volunteers [sic], dressed in era-appropriate  garb, who will inform you of the life within a busy castle and tell tales of many interesting things that would have occurred within. I was surprised at how these colourful characters added such significant depth to the overall experience.

I particularly like that last sentence. I add the [sic] as the team has a core of staff live interpreters working in conjunction with volunteer live interpreters.

The team is working hard on presenting our ‘May Games’ programme of presentations this month. We’re also preparing next month’s programme which will consist of some ‘Untold Stories’.

It’s been a hard few months building the new team and trying out new ideas but we’re learning a lot and, I hope, interpreting the castle imaginatively and entertainingly. I look forward to having a bit of time to reflect on it all.

Onderox Magazine

The live interpretation team have received a review in Onderox Magazine (in Flemish). I’m not quite sure how significant Onderox is, but it’s nice to be international.

Google translate renders the section on Bodiam as…

The medieval castle
For a portion of history we pull back inland. Bodiam Castle, in a small village, dating back to the Middle Ages, was built by Edward Dalyngrigge, a wealthy soldier. He constructed it as a residence for his family, but also as a defence against predators. The outside walls still look as they did, but once inside you will notice that only a few of the rooms are left. That is more than compensated for by theatre pieces that actors [sic] stage here daily. With the ringing of a bell, the visitors are invited to sit and see – of course in English – a scene from the life of several hundred years ago. Children from a primary school visit and watch with fascination. Since 1926 Bodiam Castle is part of the National Trust, which ensures the continued conservation and keep it accessible to the public. After your visit to the castle, you can take a walk in the estate and relax in the Wharfside Tea Room.

Sussex Life

The new Sir Edward Dallingridge outfit © 2014 Helene Marler

The new Sir Edward Dallingridge outfit © 2014 Helene Marler

My work as a live interpreter at Bodiam Castle was mentioned in an article in Sussex Life magazine recently.

In other news the new outfit for Sir Edward Dallingridge has arrived (see left) and I’ve tried it out on a couple of occasions. It is a magnificent piece of work by Black Swan Designs. We now need to find accessories and shoes that will do it justice.

It’s been an extraordinarily busy last few months – hence the lack of recent posts. I’ll write more if things quieten down.

At work

It’s been a tough couple of days at work.

At the weekend Bodiam ran an All Souls evening event called The Red Lady – a kind of adventure game / theatre piece. I was the audience’s guide as they strove to solve a series of riddles. It was great fun and wonderful to be working in the castle after dark.

The Sunday night late show was a pretty damp affair, though the worst of the wind and rain was only really winding up as the show finished. It was a pretty frightening drive home.

A great deal of credit to producer Laura, writer Simon, the cast (including the Heathcliff Heroics contingent) and the guys from the Premises team who set up the lights to make it possible. Do look out to see if the event is repeated in Bodiam’s 2014 calendar.

New images

A visitor to the castle – Jim Barker – sent me some pictures of me in action as William the Forester. I have very few pictures of me at work and I really like these. These pictures are displayed with Jim’s permission. Click on an image to see the gallery.


Inigo Jones et al

As Inigo Jones at the Banqueting House

As Inigo Jones at the Banqueting House (c) 2013 Lance Woodman

This summer has been very busy indeed. During one period I worked 46 days in a row with only one day off. I’m going to be taking it a bit easier in September.

I have started working as a freelance live interpreter in addition to my ‘day job’ at Bodiam Castle. I applied to top live interpretation Past Pleasures at the start of the year and, after a series of interviews and workshops, was added to their large team of live interpreters.

Sir Edward Dallingridge

Sir Edward Dallingridge at Bodiam Castle’s Medieval Event August 2013. Photo (c) 2013 Helene Marler

I have been working at Dover Castle and the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London for PP.

At Dover I’ve been Ranulf de Glanvill, Chief Justiciar of Henry II, William de Hommet, Constable of the King’s Household and Wulfheard the Saxon armourer.

At the Banqueting House I was one of PP’s Inigo Jones in a project about the Stuart masques which involved performing in front of a 7 metre high animation screen. It was a bit nerve-racking at first, but by the last of my shifts I was really enjoying it. It has been great to work as part of a team of talented live interpreters and at some beautiful sites.

Of course, as soon as I found extra work an opportunity came up at Bodiam to work extra hours there. I even got to ‘be’ Sir Edward Dallingridge for a couple of days. After two lean years it has been great to be earning enough to get by on again, but I don’t think I could work another summer like this.

Meeting your heroes

The job at Bodiam Castle may be indifferently paid and involve idiosyncratic hours but it does have many compensations. It is the best office I’ve ever worked in and I do like working with people when they’re intent on enjoying themselves.

This month has been extra special though. I’ve got to meet and work with one of my all time heroes. You might have thought it was impossible for Father Christmas to live up to all the hype, but no: he’s a generous, hard-working colleague with time for everyone and not a cynical bone in his body. Here’s a picture of me and the big guy (that’s him on the left. I’m the one on the right).

Father Christmas

Father Christmas

Baker’s peel

I’ve managed to locate and buy a baker’s peel in a local antique shop. I’ll be using it in the story of the paindemain loaf at the castle.

At last, a prop I can really lean on.

Bodiam Castle – Season 1

The gatehouse

Bodiam Castle, The Gatehouse

Sunday marked the end of my first ‘season’ as a costumed interpreter at Bodiam Castle. I’ll still be working there through the Winter but much less frequently.

My cycling season reviews can fixate on times and numbers. This is less easy to do with interpretation. I did, however, give over 160 presentations and 14 school tours in my 83 days at the castle.

I have enjoyed the historical and social research. This has been formal (books, research visits etc.) and informal (conversations with visitors and colleagues). Developing a new expertise is always fun. I’ve been tested a few times, but I’m happy to learn from people.

Getting back into being a performer was a trial but, in the end, I’ve enjoyed working with an audience again. I always tell my student writers that it’s important to understand the relationship between performer and audience.  I’m learning that lesson again myself.

Writing the presentations has been hard work. It’s not enough to download information for people. The piece has to have structure. It has to engage with the reason (many reasons) that people are there. It has to make a link between the audience member, the building, its social functions and its history. I wish I’d discovered Tilden’s principles earlier, particularly point 4.

‘Writing’ isn’t conventional scriptwriting of course. It’s a more dynamic process. The presentation can be very different depending on the constitution of the audience, size of the audience, weather, other activities in the castle, etc.. I did write something on paper at the beginning, but I didn’t learn my lines. I learnt structure, principles and escape routes.

The next few months…? Catching up with other areas of my life, driving KHOROSS forward, my other jobs, writing etc.. I’ll also be developing a new ‘character’ to run in parallel with Benet Whitbread the Baker for next season.

Performance 101

Today I clocked up my 101st presentation to the public at the castle (I can do up to 5 a day). Each performance lasts 15 minutes, so that over 25 hours of telling people stuff.

Baker talk

Most of the presentations have been the story of the Pandemain loaf (a.k.a. The Baker Talk). It’s evolved into a nice piece with a good story arc. It’s had some positive feedback as well.

I’m not a natural performer. I wish I’d paid more attention when I was told how to project (and protect) my voice. I’ve got more confident with the material though. It does sometimes feel repetitive but often the final show of the day is the best – you get on top of the story and can be more playful with it.

I’m now developing a new piece and next season I will need a couple more. It’s like real work – except that I’m dressed up and in a castle.