Henry’s search for a fourth wife disturbs his entire court, can John Blanke’s return soothe matters ?
Jack Benjamin – John Blanke
Having had the pleasure of meeting the cast of The Court Must Have a Wife in rehearsals, where they gave me a personal performance of what is the opening scene of the play, in the unromantic setting of a London rehearsal room in everyday clothes, I was looking forward to seeing the real thing, in period dress in the dramatic setting of Henry VIII’s Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace.
Ade Solanke sets her play The Court Must Have A Wife in the summer of 1539 when a tired, gout ridden Henry is looking for a new wife following the death of Jane Seymour, his mood swings sets the entire court on edge, few feel safe or comfortable. The redoubtable Thomas Cromwell plans the feasting and disguising to hopefully seal the treaty he negotiated for Henry to marry the German princess Anne of Cleves. John Blanke has returned to the court and perhaps can through his music and worldly experience placate Henry.
The play is set in the long rather than the more familiar round, Sam Curtis Lindsay, the play’s director moves the action, at pace from one end of the Great Hall to the other using the full length of the Hall to great effect. In doing so he gives everyone in the audience the opportunity to see and sense the characters at close hand almost eavesdropping on some conversations, as the action is so close at times.
My expectations from seeing the rehearsals were far exceeded. The setting in the Great Hall is stunning with the Hall’s vast arched roof , its beams and supports edged in gold and with its walls draped in magnificent sixteenth century tapestries depicting the life of Abraham.
The costumes where magnificent several of the characters wore black including Thomas Cromwell, Maria – John Blanke’s mother and Lady Margaret Bryan, but the costumes where not simply plain black they were all sumptuously black with much use of black silk and satin details set against black velvet and with high lights in white, silver and gold colouredfabrics and lace while the gold and fur of Henry’s garment is simply magnificent, a dramatic and fitting contrast to the sombre black of his subjects.
My favourite scene of this short play for me is the duet, really looks like jamming, between Henry VIII and John Blanke. Henry strumming what looks like a lute and John with his trumpet, together playing a piece which, I can only guess was written by Henry. A scene I had imagined for my own John Blanke movie UNFUFILLED: Europe 1533. It was a delight to see it actually brought to brilliantly to life in such a wonderful setting!
My only gripe is not with the play, or its settings, it is to do with its promotion. There is nothing in the gift shop about the play not even a copy of Miranda Kaufmann’s Black Tudors: The Untold Story I would have expected to have seen a copy of the play ideally with some John Blanke merchandise and as a minimum a simple A5 flyer introducing the play and players along with the writer and director I am sure this latter failing can be corrected easily.
Having said that I thoroughly enjoyed the play, seeing something fresh and new each of the three times I saw it. I very much look forward to seeing it again before it finishes 2nd September 2018.
Ade and Sam have really imagined the black Tudor trumpeter and the cast have brought their respective imaginations to life – fully recommended !
......and thanks to the cast (complete cast list and biographies here) for the ultimate selfie!
The evening opened with a brilliant trumpet fanfare from MUSICIAN Corporal Lawrence Narkom Michael HISTORIAN introduced the project as a reaction to the imagination failure by those who cannot imagine a black character in a seventeenth century play or that there were black and brown folk at Dunkirk . Miranda HISTORIAN gave a scholarly introduction into to John Blanke and his place in Henry VIII's court. Graeme ARTIST spoke passionately about how synaesthesia influenced his portrayal of John Blanke and how his trumpet was the voice of the King. Mengistu ARTIST enthusiastically imagined John Blanke cleaning his trumpet after a performance with the crowd watching on admiringly. Robin HISTORIAN knowledgeably compared John Blanke to great black trumpeters who impacted black history: Louis Armstrong , Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, had John Blanke had the same impact? Semma ARTIST presented how she showed John Blanke in reflective mood after a performance wandering about himself and his life. Linett ARTIST introduced her my freestyle calligrafffiti artwork based on his petition's layout she calligrafffitied as John Blanke might I was here and I was exceptional! Jan HISTORIAN showed us how exceptional his portrait was as at the time nobles and elites were depicted by their coat of arms not their image. Sheba POET performed her poem in Jamaican Patois celebrating his presence and achievements in Henry VIII court Sharon ARTIST presented John Blanke as her son - strong, charismatic, creative, black man - using Adinkra symbols to emphasis his qualities. Phil RAPPER HISTORIAN gave an understanding of John Banke's presence thru rap , showing how it demonstrated England's changing, up coming place and role in Europe. Paul ARTIST talked about the challenges of finding the face and the composition for John Blanke as there were many ways he wanted to portray John Blanke. The evening closed with Corporal Lawrence Narkom MUSICIAN playing The Last Post.
Feedback on the Evening
Really enjoyable WhatsApp AN
Amazing Such a wide range of artists etc., all united by their passion for this history. Twitter MK
Phenomenal evening tonight, what talent, imgination and knowledge, looking forward to next one Twitter PM
A good evening...enjoyed it very much too. Facebook PW
Excellent evening...such an inspirational project. Facebook SA
Playfully combat[s], ignorance about our past Twitter CF
An interesting and inspiring evening last night - history, poetry, rap and art all rolled into one amazing event Twitter JP
A wonderful evening of thought provoking words and pictures circled round with JB's clarion calls. email KS
A wonderful evening, it was so good! email SB
A great evening on Friday - congratulations to you and all participants email JM
Lett's Daily Mail review of the The Fantastic Follies Of Mrs Rich is why I continue with the John Blanke Project.
Lett's imagination failed him, as does his understanding of history. The result is this ignorant racist response to the black character in the play:
Was Mr Wringer cast because he is black? If so, the RSC’s clunking approach to politically correct casting has again weakened its stage product. I suppose its managers are under pressure from the Arts Council to tick inclusiveness boxes, but at some point they are going to have to decide if their core business is drama or social engineering.
A failure of his imagination , a denial of the history and playing to his audience - essentialising, stereotyping black folk to fit his and their's racialized and racist agendas and ideology.
The response from the RSC was appropriately measured
Our approach to casting is to seek the most exciting individual for each role and in doing so to create a repertoire of the highest quality. We are proud that this ensures our casts are also representative of the diversity of the United Kingdom, that the audiences which we serve are able to recognise themselves on stage and that our work is made and influenced by the most creative range of voices and approaches. .
They unlike Letts can imagine the black characters in Stuart England
It's 2018 and still some think black folk in Britain should be excluded from portrayals of British history on stage and screen despite the evidence and why we still need to imagine the black Tudor trumpeter John Blanke and other black characters from British history.
If you have a library card you can read on line Dr Miranda Kaufmann' s entry for John Blanke in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford DNB) the national record of men and women who have shaped British history and culture, worldwide, from the Romans to the 21st century.
Alternatively you can listen to the Oxford DNB podcast:
Feedback from The College of Arms John Blanke Project Live! event Friday 1st December 2017
Another inspiring evening JB email
Great event....really informative BF email
An amazing evening shared EC Facebook
An outstanding evening SA Facebook
Wonderful! MK email
Feedback from The British Library John Blanke Project Live! event Friday 3rd November 2017
[The] project has really taken off and become a serious part of the cultural landscape of London. It was quite an evening and without being too dramatic I had the sense of a great future for the project. A sterling cast of presenters and some truly inspiration words and work. Email MA
a really inspiring evening email FK a very enjoyable and successful evening email KC a great night! Twitter MK
[The] project [came] to life in a small space in one of the most eminent locations in the country. Those who came helped make the evening inspiring, memorable, and [took] pride in being a contributor. Email EC
Really enjoyed the evening…… Thought the spoken word guys and the mr fowakan were really powerful WhatsApp PB
My usual study room in the British Library is Humanities 1 so it was really odd for me to have to go to Rare Manuscripts to read Sydney Anglo’s 2 volume work The Great Tournament Roll of Westminster on the 1511 Westminster Tournament Roll - it meant that this was no ordinary book.
Books in Rare Manuscripts are there for the obvious reason or if they are expensive, I believed it was for the latter reason The Great Tournament Roll of Westminster was there . However having recently purchased a brand-new-still-in-orginal-packaging copy for £30 at the College of Arms I’m rethinking why it has to be in Rare Manuscripts.
That £30 price tag is its original 1968 published price.
The College of Arms price has remained unchanged since that time. I know that because I was told so and my copy was still in its original brown paper wrapping, as befits such an expensive book, and it smelt and looked 49 years old. There was one further telling indication of the price - a label stuck to the inside front cover stating £30.00, 600s net UK, hints of the decimalisation to come in 1971.
Little surprise that the 2 volume work The Great Tournament Roll of Westminster was carefully wrapped in brown paper as today that £30 would be the equivalent of around £500 according to measuringworth.com
Some further idea of how values have shifted in 1968 a Renault 4 car cost between £599 and £629 which is equivalent to £9,823 and £10,315 in 2016 prices. so 5% of a mini family car in today would around £490 we’re back to that £500 in today’s money (Cost car year you were born).
So no surprise to to understand why it was to be found in the Rare Manuscripts at the British Library.
Its not just an historic document of an historic event its historic document in itself being a collotype printed by the acclaimed printer Vivian Ridler
So at £30 you’re really buying genuine piece of history at a bargain price!