The Victorian Gothic building is home to the permanent exhibition, but also functions as a lobby and entrance to the theatre auditorium. Therefore Kossmann.dejong created not just an exhibition, but we made the whole building – with its intriguing details and narrative quality – part of the experience. Exemplary are the impressive, historical stained glass windows of the Seven Ages of Man in the monumental staircase, which are given extra attention through the addition of a graphical layer on the walls.
As a sneak preview on what will follow, Kossmann.dejong transformed the public, wood-panelled café bar on the ground floor into a cabinet of curiosity: mysterious objects trigger and invite visitors to reveal anecdotal, personal stories. After an introduction in the Reading Room, designed as if visitors gather around Shakespeare’s fireplace in his library, visitors ascend a small ‘secret’ staircase. Special light and sound effects are used to build up the tension, referring to the moment just before the curtain opens and the play begins.
To make the content and stories easy accessible in the relatively small main exhibition space of 120 sqm on the first floor, Kossmann.dejong applied two different exhibition concepts. Mark de Jong explains: “We created a core filled with interactives, enabling visitors to experience various parts of the theatre-making process of the RSC throughout the years, complimented by surrounding walls that are filled with stories and historical artefacts from the rich RSC collection.” Where the walls are designed to entice visitors to delve further, the centre of the space encourages activation. Visitors are challenged for instance to take the stage and perform a Hamlet scene alongside an RSC actor. Kinect-technology is used in combination with a virtual voice and movement coach to enable visitors to play as if they are really on stage. Or visitors can try on virtual costumes from the RSC’s collection with the Magic Costume Mirror and learn about how costume designers have brought their own vision to productions. Smaller hands-on experiences are designed to stimulate the senses of the younger audience, like the Shakespeare A-to-Z theatre secrets drawers full of items to touch, smell and discover. Through the inclusion of different layers ‘The Play’s The Thing’ has become a rich experience for visitors of all ages.
Kossmann.dejong extended the experience of the exhibition to the ‘Rialto Bridge’, the public waiting room to the theatre auditorium. Through the dedicated design of a theatrical red space, in which stories are told via a large narrative mural (by Vic Lee), secret peep holes in the wall and a comfy ‘talking’ couch, waiting will become exciting. Also, as a contemporary counter balance to the historic details of the building, artist Steven Follen was asked to create a new site-specific artwork in the monumental stairwell. So ‘The Play’s The Thing’ has become more than just an exhibition: visitors get up close and personal with the theatre-making process and experience the building’s Victorian Gothic architecture in a new light.