Last week, representatives from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust were invited to attend the official preview of the new Richard III Visitor Centre in Leicester. Here’s an account of the visit from Dr Anjna Chouhan, our Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies...
Located in the city centre, in a former grammar school building, the Richard III Visitor Centre is part of a wider refurbishment project encompassing the Cathedral Gardens area and is designed to make Leicester attractive to tourists both at home and from abroad.
Upon arrival at the striking building, I was greeted by costumed guides and given my very own Richard III badge! Sir Peter Soulsby, the Mayor of Leicester who came to visit the Birthplace late last year, began the formal part of the evening by welcoming guests and thanking the individuals and institutions that made the creation and opening of the Centre possible. After much applause, the party was allowed to enter the exhibition.
The first floor is dedicated to the Wars of the Roses, focusing specifically on the battle of Bosworth which was to lead Richard to his fateful death and burial in Leicester. With plenty of audio-visual installations and some surreal lighting, the visitor is then treated to a second exhibition floor. Moving away from the historical section, this exhibit is entirely contemporary. It explores Shakespeare’s heavy influence on recent interpretations of Richard and, most significantly, it explains and celebrates the process of research and discovery that led to the identification of Richard’s remains in a council car park two years ago.
With technology designed by three universities (Leicester, De Montfort and Dundee) visitors can interact digitally with replica bones and visualise how each wound was identified and analysed. Touch screens enable the visitor to follow the facial reconstruction process, and a large screen presentation digitally reconstructs what the Blackfriars church would have looked like when Richard was buried there.
It was splendid to learn that an Education Officer has been recruited recently to develop courses. So far, funding has been secured for the Centre to deliver educational offerings to under 12s from Leicestershire, and I look forward to watching the growth of this department in the near future. Finally, I thoroughly enjoyed my meander about the gift shop. There were all sorts of Richard III memorabilia to play with, including lots of Shakespeare-related items, and I couldn’t resist trying on some of the props.
I’d like to wish the Richard III Centre and the team behind it my congratulations for setting up this important heritage site in connection with the Leicester dig.
Visit the Visitor Centre website to find out more.