The whistling of rockets, the explosions of color and the crackle of the flames of Bonfire Night never fail to captivate young and old. But few give much importance to the gunpowder plot of 1605 which is commemorated annually on November 5.
A tourist attraction incorporating live theater, virtual reality and multisensory special effects intends to change that when it opens in the vaults opposite the Tower of London next year.
The Gunpowder Plot tells the story of Guy Fawkes and the daring plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament and kill King James I and his government to further the conspirators’ goal of restoring a Catholic monarchy.
The plot was foiled and Fawkes and his fellow plotters were convicted of high treason and sentenced to death. In 1606, an act of parliament designated November 5 as a day of thanksgiving.
The vaults, last accessible to the public two decades ago, are the setting for an immersive experience created by Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), the body that looks after the Tower of London, and Layered Reality, a company that combines digital technology with live theater.
“It takes traditional re-enactments a step further, placing the visitor at the heart of the action,” said Tim Powell of Historic Royal Palaces. “It’s a fundamentally new way of experiencing history, because you are not only witnessing it, but actually participating in it for the first time. “
Rather than being passive spectators, visitors will be invited to infiltrate the plotters and gain their trust. “You are at the heart of the story,” director Hannah Price said. “You can uncover the most infamous plot in history and you are active in finding out what is going on.”
The show has three components: a live theatrical performance; technology, including virtual reality, ambisonics and special effects; and physical sensations, including smell, temperature and taste.
According to Andrew McGuinness, CEO of Layered Reality, the layering of these elements “is what makes it really immersive. All of your senses are telling you that you are in a different place, in a different time.
He added: “At one point you go down the Thames on a boat and you will feel the water, the waves beneath you, like you are on that boat. Your eyes see London as it was – you see the scents, you see the Tower of London as it was in 1605.
“Technology is just a tool to help us tell the story and take you back in time. You shouldn’t be aware or thinking about the technology, you should be thinking about the fact that you are back in 1605.
Historical details were researched and overseen by Alden Gregory, Curator of Historic Buildings at HRP. “We’re taking it to a whole new level, doing something that has never been tried by museums before. My role is to make sure that what we do is rooted in history and authenticity.
Most people’s impression of medieval London included sewage, animals and decay, he said. “We want to challenge that and create a much more realistic version of the past.”
In an era when “we’ve seen it all, VR has the capacity to shock and surprise,” said writer Danny Robins. “It’s such an exciting story, and we’re doing it in a way that feels incredibly fresh. You are literally in the gunpowder plot.
After Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellars below the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder just hours before he was supposed to light the fuse, he was taken to the Tower of London and tortured. On January 31, 1606, he was executed in the courtyard of the Old Palace of Westminster, when he saw the building he had sought to destroy.