Behind the Scenes of GDIF's Opening Night Spectacular

Writer and Director, Bradley Hemmings, takes us behind the scenes of The House, a GDIF celebration of our 400-year history here in Greenwich. 

Photograph of  Exterior of Queen's House, Greenwich
This year, the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival’s opening night show celebrates the 400th anniversary of the Queen’s House. It’s a major anniversary, since this iconic and stunningly beautiful creation standing at the heart of the National Maritime Museum, is Britain’s first ever classical building. It was designed in 1616 by Inigo Jones, one of London’s greatest ever architects, who also knew a thing or two about designing spectacular theatre. He was a regular collaborator with one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, Ben Jonson, and together they produced lavish entertainments called Masques, in which members of the Royal family often took the main roles. So quite a lot to live up to, even for a Festival that likes doing difficult things.
Painting of Inigo Jones (1573-1652) by William Hogarth
Painting of Inigo Jones (1573-1652) by William Hogarth
As well as being a virtuosic architect, Inigo Jones was a theatrical innovator. He designed things for the first time, which we now take for granted, like the proscenium arch, moving scenery and spectacular mechanical staging devices. When I started to imagine what kind of staging Inigo Jones might use if he were celebrating his own building 400 years later, I thought that inevitably he’d be drawn to state of the art digital technology and, given that his masques often had lavish dance sequences, I thought that he’d want to make sure that he was riding the zeitgeist of 2016 with the coolest and most innovative dance on offer, so I thought let’s have both! So at the heart of our production is a collaboration between Tal Rosner, a BAFTA award winning film and video artist and Tony Adigun, of Avant Garde Dance Company, a company breaking new ground in creating a contemporary language of hip hop. But that’s not all! I thought we would have to have some truly spectacular staging, both for Inigo Jones, and also GDIF’s audience, who’ve come to expect such things. I’m therefore really delighted to be working for the first time with the German company, Pan Optikum, who have a breathtaking surprise in store, which I’m not going to spoil by revealing…!!
The House, GDIF festival at The Queen's House
For music, I went again to another BAFTA award winner, Dan Jones, and then, I also remembered that Inigo Jones often featured kings, queens, princes and princesses in his masques: this approach looked difficult in 2016, so instead I went for theatrical royalty, with two legendary actors joining in the fun: Sir Ian McKellen recently recorded the narration which you’ll hear on 24 June, and following her recent highly acclaimed performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” at the National Theatre, Olivier Award winning Sharon D. Clarke will be appearing, as our presiding 21st century Queen.