Architect's Journal (copyright Triangle, 2007)
Richard Talbot

Charles is based on the entry for Charles Samuel Smith (1790-1863) in The Biographical Index of Architects 1600-1840. He was architect of the kitchen, hall, dining room and library, at Charlecote Park. My characterization makes him a fantasist, a comical pseud: a Romantic artist, fabulous engineer. He is a Malvolio type - a nag to his social inferiors and an ‘expert’.

(Start in the Dining Room)

“This ceiling and the ceiling in the library work from an optical illusion. The pendant stucco moulds are all the same length but appear to be more squat at a distance. As you move they also appear to move. In addition they are differently formed. There is the ‘s’ shape, the comma and the question mark. They are arranged in a pattern, which perhaps has a code. Each one is decorate with beads or diamonds, perhaps fruit forms, or pieces from a Christmas cake. These are like corn on the cob. You must be careful not to spill your soup down your front when you look up to admire them. The ceiling is so delicious you could eat it. You could snap the pendants off. They are like meringues. Each one is surrounded with a quatrefoil and the coffers are filled with exuberant arabesque and serpentine forms.

(moves into the library)

“Here the ceiling has leaves and ornate swirls. The cove is curved and decorated with a blue line, which is like a shadow - in fact I thought it was - and in certain lights it seems to disappear. In the evening it is more prominent. Some of the pendants have a griffin on them, from the family armorial bearings. These ceilings are copies of the King James drawing room at Hatfield House , palace of Queen Elizabeth 1st and so meet the aspirations of the Elizabethan revival”.
Charles, The Architect

To approach visitors in the Great Hall I used asides and questions ‘over the shoulder’ and then built a following by becoming louder and taking in eavesdroppers. Elsewhere I used gossip (in the bedrooms, on the staircase), outrage (at the Willcox buffet, at John Gibson’s architectural work) to draw people in. In the drawing room I tried to recreate an ‘at home’ in the drawing room using the flute and recorder and encouraging visitors to sing (finally in the last week !). Guides recited a cautionary tale. Monologues about architecture worked on the parterre and lawns. The main staircase and its balcony is one of the most effective sites for holding court. A script has now been written up.

The top hat was appealing to children, and I invented some games: ‘The conveyor belt of history’ (a Generation Game/Antique Roadshow memory game); the Freemason’s Blindfold (children put it on to walk past nude paintings). Children responded to the building plan and watercolour paintings, stories of the naughty cat and hidden staircases. Teenagers responded to absurdly decorative language or absurd historical contradictions, and grotesque stories from the Fatal Room.

(as people struggle downstairs)
“I have not been able to install an escalator or a lift, I have designed and conceived of a contraption that would propel you from a seated position as this upholstery expands under the pressure of jet steam, it erupts and launches the body through the air so that you land on a huge mattress fitted with two pistons to compress you on your arrival”.
Charles, The Architect

Highlights
Attending the service in the St Leonard’s church, and meeting Sir Edmund Fairfax-Lucy there.
Linking with reality in the village: the sad funeral and the uncanny job of re-enacting.
Drawing/painting by the river – a talking point.
Real historical relations: The William Beckford Society lady; the young architect who is working on a Charles Samuel Smith building at Stoneleigh; the great granddaughter of Gilbert Scott.
The virtual reality theme: using Ted’s model of the building.
The elements: standing in the rain; lounging in the sun.
Research in practice: genuine discoveries - the ceiling as an optical illusion; George Lucy’s eyes.
Double acts with guides.
Nature: the house martins appear and leave through the season, just like the actors; the fish in the river.

William, The Footman
William emerged in the absence of the butler. William is a clown, a visual gag, and almost a mute. His work is laborious, masochistic. He serves visitors more than his masters and is always on the verge of expulsion. He could be reproduced at Christmas as a jester.

Highlights
William: the cup of tea (visitors barely escape calamity in the garden); reading the clock (barely bending his back); the adventure of ‘the cat that stole the potatoes’

“What are you supposed to be ?” asks a 70 year old red riding hood in orthopedic sandals. Visitors address characters, who we think are real people, and so to us the question sounds ridiculous, rude, stupid and presumptuous). A mum with 5 children who respond with sensible comments refuses to participate herself, and so seems silly. The visitor seems grotesque to the joker-character and this feeds his alienation and glee. But “what are you supposed to be” is a request to be allowed to play, and many people are prepared to take part, standing politely and straight as pins on their tidy feet, assuming the stance of a performer: a ballerina or harlequin. But towards the end of the day and in the heat of the late afternoon, away from the house and distanced from history, this game can twist into cruelty. Around the Orangery we are like wandering minstrels or absurd entertainers. A preposterous re-enactor bumps into frail bodies and old fashions. An Italian artist (so he claimed) asked if I was teasing him, and perhaps he was right. He asked honestly if I was interested in architecture, he said he was a good artist and we began sucking on a long discussion. He was standing and ‘Sophia Loren’ was standing beside him pushing a wheelchair. Her face was deeply fake-tanned and as her eyebrows raised they pushed dark waves of wrinkles back to her hairline. Who is the wheelchair for, I wonder ? They are both extraordinarily fashionably dressed, in an out-dated Fellini sort of way. If they had walked onto a stage they would not be believable.

It is important to play seriously. Pantomime and hijinx satisfy nobody but us. Seriousness allows activity to slow down. The ego diminishes as it is forced to absorb external stimuli and to follow repetitive actions and thoughts”.
Richard Talbot Journal extract

It would be useful to know that the actor has permission from the visitor and the guide to hold court for up to 5-8 minutes on a regular basis, or to advertise that the actor is ‘doing the rounds’ for a fixed intensive period. If the house is crowded it is easier to hold court. If it is quiet, subtle interactions are needed.