In 1689 William III bought the Jacobean mansion Kensington Palace, originally known as Nottingham House from his Secretary of State, the Earl of Nottingham, and commissioned Christopher Wren to extend and improve the house. Until the death of George II in 1760, Kensington Palace was the favorite residence of successive sovereigns.
Currently many Royals still reside at Kensington Palace.
Queen Victoria was born at Kensington Palace and was raised with the Kensington System, a strict and elaborate set of rules designed by her mother, Victoria, Duchess of Kent, along with her attendant, Sir John Conroy, concerning the upbringing of the Duchess’s daughter, the future Queen Victoria. One of the rules in the system required her to be accompanied down the staircases every time they were used.
This 1676 engraving of the then newly built Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London, England, was produced by the English artist Francis Place (1647-1728). It is part of a series commissioned to mark the opening of the observatory. The Latin inscription states that this is the north face of the observatory. The Royal Observatory, Greenwich, was founded in 1675 with Sir Christopher Wren’s design used to build Flamsteed House on this hill in Greenwich Park. It was the first purpose-built research institution in Britain, and for several centuries it was the centre of astronomical and meteorological research in the UK.
Knowing Louise Brealey as an articulate writer with a feminist agenda it is no wonder that her debut play centres around a powerful woman in an exclusive man’s world. Allegedly pope Joan was a woman in the Middle Ages who disguised herself as a man and using her talents she received a monastery education, worked her way up the ranks until finally she became pope. Brealey’s play, however, hardly gives us any details on Joan’s journey to becoming the most powerful woman in the christian world. Instead Pope Joan focuses on Joan’s struggles to keep her sex -and her pregnancy- a secret from her scheming cardinals and her radical teachings that hold up Mary Magdalene as a figure of worship.
The production couldn’t have found a more appropriate setting in St James’s Church, a beautiful piece of architecture designed by Christopher Wren. It lends the play a quiet, almost holy atmosphere, complete with freshly burned incense and rather annoyingly, challenging echoes, where monks glide along the nave and whisper in dark corners. Hymns are sung to enhance the mood but other songs by Athony and the Johnsons give this production a more contemporary feel.
Playing pope Joan is Sophie Crawford, who stands alone as the only woman in an all but male cast. She gives a brave and powerful performance, behaving more like a man than her cardinals at certain points, but she also carries with her the sadness of being alienated from everyone around her. During one memorable scene she bares her breasts as she makes her way along the aisle by clambering over the shoulders of a group of hooded monks. It is this shocking image that emphasizes Joan’s boldness rather than her feminist-inclined speeches.
With Pope Joan the National Youth Theatre has given young actors and a new playwright the perfect vehicle to showcase their talents. And while everything may not be perfect yet, this production has certainly proved more than promising.
Discover Britain’s seafaring past at the National Maritime Museum, explore the world’s oldest surviving tea clipper ship, the Cutty Sark, and take a stroll along the Thames past Christopher Wren’s magnificent baroque Old Royal Naval College. Find out more