This appears in Western Park Gazette
28th July 2014: a day made glorious by this son of York, to misquote that Tudor bloke from the West Midlands. And would this hot, sunny day, the day the King Richard III Visitor Centre opens to the public, be another glorious day for Leicester as the next chapter in the 530 year old epic King in the Car park drama begins?
You could tell it wasn’t your average Saturday up town: TV cameras and furry ended sound booms mingle with numerous hesitant-looking medieval-costumed ‘extras’ outside the Cathedral. I wasn’t totally clear as to the extras’ purpose as many of these velvet and armour clad individuals joined us commoners looking round the centre but it was a nice touch nonetheless. The nation’s media was back out in force with Channel 4 and the BBC (TV and radio) chasing City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby and other be-suited people for comment. As I arrived a keen TV reporter asked me what I thought of the new Centre. Um …
Set a little way back from the road the adapted former Alderman Newton School building has a cool, contemporary look: glass, gold and pale stone. Once over the threshold visitors are thrust straight into the midst of the Machiavellian manoeuvrings that were the mainstay of the feuding Plantaganets and Tudors.
This section, Dynasty, features film projections of various characters explaining different viewpoints in the build up to Richard’s reign. These films are beautifully done and draw you in but positioned in a difficult place to concentrate and build up a connected picture of what each character has to say. However, the centrepiece – an aged throne oozing blood – is effective and strikes an ominous tone.
From here, turn right to Death.
Death features a variety of interactive exhibits. Jumping aboard the ubiquitous ‘let the public decide’ voting system to settle an argument there is a touch screen inviting visitors to assess pieces of evidence from different locations and decide if Richard murdered the Princes in the Tower. By 10.30am 26% had voted ‘yes’. As a nice counterbalance, a nearby display highlights the reforms and measures Richard put in place during his short reign to make England a fairer place for his subjects.
Filmed representations of the Battle of Bosworth are interestingly done, mainly in shadow, and much of the information is presented imaginatively. An installation art piece of halberds was a case in point; these are horrible weapons, over 2 metres long with a nasty sharp bit at one end and the jauntily angled display resembled a sinister version of Kerplunk.
I do not want to trivialise this though – this whole section is dark and foreboding and it is worth remembering that although few accounts of the Battle of Bosworth remain, all document Richard’s bravery; this king (along with many others) fell in battle on the field, not in flight.
And then it is upstairs into the light of Discovery. This section includes a timeline of the actors who have portrayed Richard in Shakespeare’s damning play, information about the characters and techniques involved in the dig two years ago and a lot of ‘science bits’.
There are many hi tech exhibits, which is good, but for some information it felt more like ‘what gadget can we use for this’ rather than ‘what is the best way to display this information’. There is an MRI type scanner with a 3D printout of Richard’s skeleton – press this button to find out about his ribcage, for example, and a holographic explanation magically appears up inside the MRI. Impressive, but I couldn’t read the descriptions easily. I also thought the exhibits containing Phillippa Langley’s Hunter wellies worn during the dig and the Star Wars Stormtrooper style depiction of armour verging on the trivial.
From Discovery head back downstairs through the cafe (good food, reasonable prices) and out to the actual site of Richard’s hurried burial in Greyfriars. Despite the 21st century distractions around me, this is an area for reflection. Seeing the medieval tiles still in place in the Choir and Richard’s resting place for over 500 years was, for me, a moving and thrilling experience. As you stand and look at the mud and stone his twisted and footless skeleton is projected fleetingly in his grave. Was this effect necessary? I’m not sure, but it did serve to underline the temporary nature of our time on Earth.
Overall this is a good addition to Leicester’s tourist offering and a great complement to the Battle of Bosworth Visitor Centre. Whilst they both cover much of the same ground, it is done from different viewpoints. Bosworth is more from the outlook of the ‘ordinary’ people involved in the fighting, this new centre – as indicated by its name – focuses on Richard, the last Plantagenet King of England.
Leicester’s history is now indelibly forged with King Richard III and it is important the city shares this with the world, particularly the achievements of the team involved in the dig.
So, to now answer the TV reporter I’d say ‘see above, and although a bit pricey at £21.50 for a family of four and £7.95 for adults, this is worth a visit’.
Click here for ticket information
Click here for more information about Richard III and Leicester
by Sally Jack