THE WOOD BENEATH THE WORLD

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Client - Leeds City Council.
An immersive journey through the underbelly of Leeds' iconic Town Hall

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning
The end is where we start from…
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time

T. S. Eliot Little Gidding V

In winter 2014, Leeds Town Hall officially unveiled ‘The Wood Beneath the World’, where Lord Whitney transformed the series of hidden corridors, cells and crypts beneath one of Leeds’ most iconic buildings in their biggest project to date. Conceptualised, creatively directed, designed, built and produced by Lord Whitney’s dedicated team, the project combines striking set design with immersive theatre to take audiences on an unexpected journey into a world of the forgotten, the surreal and the subconscious. Dense, dark woods had silently taken over, as if growing beneath the city for decades and going unnoticed by those who walked above.

Suspense, excitement, intrigue and wonder. Lord Whitney created and realised the project alongside a carefully curated team of directors, writers, performers, musicians, technicians and designers. Working closely with researchers, psychologists and folklore experts allowed Lord Whitney to develop a world which saw the audience transported into a unexpected landscape. The experience of this momentary disorientation from reality, re-enchanted everyday surroundings, or at least briefly showed them anew.

 

The Lord Whitney team fully immersed themselves in this 5-month long project to passionately deliver an unforgettable experience to Leeds audiences, culminating in a sold out run of over 100 shows and 3 pop-up dining events. These took place in the 5 week run up to Christmas, and were experienced by around 4000 people.

The Wood Beneath The World is a delightful trip into the dark and eerie underbelly of human imagination, and the primal things that roam in the wild and overgrown spaces of the world. There are places in the woods that are hidden from view, visible to only those who know where to look

The experience intended to ignite curiosity, encourage reflection and move away from more commercialised festive activities in the city and remind people of the value of detaching from everyday life even if just for an hour. For Lord Whitney, Christmas is about nostalgia, storytelling and shared experiences, which is why ‘The Wood Beneath the World’ bar book-ended the experience – it was a dressed space in the Town Hall old victorian cells, serving festive drinks, and giving audiences a chance to share their experience with those around them.

Having previously worked on ‘Lore of the North’, there were starting points from folklore that fed directly in to the concept of ‘The Wood Beneath the World’. Audiences in groups of up to 20 were greeted by Jack, a ‘forgotten’ employee of Leeds Town Hall, and led on a journey through dimly lit basement corridors, to the faint sound of music and the smell of fallen leaves. After being told tales of 2 mysterious characters who had lost themselves in the woods, the group were left to explore Jack’s office – a carefully dressed space where Lord Whitney’s attention to detail came in to it’s own. On entering the woods, the audience were handed torches, and encouraged to explore the unknown. Some were lucky enough to have one-on-one experiences with the characters, or were given tasks to complete. Having been deeply affected by the likes of Punchdrunk and Secret Cinema, Lord Whitney were keen to push audiences out of their comfort zones, as well as out of their own by creating this ambitious piece of work.

For three nights a small number of revellers were guided through a gateway into another world, where they were invited to leave their inhibitions behind. Led by the Lord of Misrule through the secret spaces found within Leeds town hall, the Feast of Fools was an evening of dining, drinking, dancing, and debauchery. Designed to be an event of unexpected pleasures and lavish treats, set within the all-encompassing Wood Beneath the World.

 

The set itself was installed over 3 weeks by a team of 15 people, who created 52 realistic hand built trees in winding pathways, a cabin and ‘Jack’s Office’. References to folklore, fairytales and psychology were all around, ready to be discovered in the form of detailed, handmade hidden maps, photographs and stories. In a truly multi-sensory experience, all five senses were heightened by creating smells, commissioning a 45 minute long sound track and using sequenced lighting around the space.

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Photography credits: Lord Whitney, Giles Smith & David Lindsay

Creative Direction, Concept, Art Direction & Set Design

Lord Whitney

Branding & Graphic Deisgn

Passport

Services included;

Concept & Research Development, Creative Direction, Project Management, Team Coordination, Set Design & Build, Prop Sourcing, Music Curation, Event Design