Cassandra Willoughby and Peter Rumney - Telling Stories about stories
News story, or back story, everyone has their own story. It is now important to have one for your social media, so what is yours?
On the 9th November 2017, Dragon Breath Theatre won the Judges’ Special Award at the East Midlands Heritage Awards, for The Cassandra Room at Wollaton Hall, a collaboration with the design team at Nottingham City Museums and Galleries.
The company had been commissioned to create an ‘installation’ for visitors to Wollaton hall. Peter Rumney, the writer in the project, was given a brief ‘to bring the history of the Willoughby family to life’, ‘to tell the stories we found most interesting’ and ‘to make the room as engaging and interactive as possible for visitors of all ages to enjoy’.
Cassandra Willoughby was the daughter of Francis Willoughby of Wollaton, Nottinghamshire, a Fellow of the Royal Society, a collector and writer on natural history, and Emma, the daughter of Sir Henry Barnard.
In 1687, when her 19-year-old brother, also called Francis, disagreed with his stepfather's handling of his finances, and upon acceding to his inheritance, he and Cassandra returned to the family property, Wollaton Hall in Nottinghamshire. She became the housekeeper and took it upon herself to oversee the restoration of the gardens and rebuilding of the house and compile a history of her father's family entitled The Continuation of the History of the Willoughby Family, which is preserved in the Manuscripts Department at the University of Nottingham library. She also left some travel writings and genealogies.
In 1713, at the age of 43, Cassandra married her wealthy cousin, James Bridges FRS, who inherited a barony and baronetcy on the death of his father,8th Baron Chandos. He then became the Duke of Chandos in 1713.
Cassandra died childless at the age of 65, but future generations are assured of her position at the heart of the Willoughby family.
Peter Rumney studied the information gathered by the museum team on what visitors to Wollaton Hall wanted to see and came up with different interpretations.
Cassandra’s manuscripts and the story she wrote about the family and the hall set the scene. He and the other creatives of Dragon Breath Theatre then set about bringing the story to life.
The Interpretations - a collection of curiosities
Walk into the Cassandra room and be immediately struck by the eye-catching dining table, which draws draws the visitor in. Unique in its concept, each of ten domes, one at each place setting, tells its own chapter of the family saga using a key sentence taken from Cassandra’s original text. It is interwoven with a very visual paper sculpture.
Below is a drawer perfect for the height of younger visitors and the curious. The urge to open it is irresistible. The language is simpler and in shorter sentences. The Chinese visitors, maybe from the University of Nottingham, are able to read it too.
In a different font there is the instruction to discover more of the story in associated objects.
In yet another font, there are questions to dorect the reader to look even more closely for more clues to the story.
The final question is a call for the visitor to think about their modern day experiences.
Do you like telling stories?
What is the story you want to tell?