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22 Jul 2020

After Dark at Brodie Castle

Books on shelves in Brodie Castle library
The library at Brodie Castle
​In autumn/winter 2019 we put together a new interpretive programme. Experiencing Collections was a series of experimental interventions at six properties (Brodie Castle, Culzean Castle, Gladstone’s Land, Haddo House, Kellie Castle and Pollok House), devised and produced by six different creative practitioners working in collaboration with our operational teams, curators and conservators.

The idea was to develop, produce and, importantly, to test new techniques and interventions that could inspire and engage our visitors. Each experiment had a different theme: surprising scents, atmospheric lighting and the disembodied voice of an unreliable narrator all featured in the programme of events.

Immersive, contemplative and highlighting the physical personality of the castle itself, After Dark at Brodie was created in partnership with the property team and volunteers. Theatre maker Al Seed created an after-dark solo tour experience and theatrical event (without the ongoing cost of hiring professional performers) that re-imagined a journey through history at Brodie Castle, hosted by an invisible yet ever-present guide.

In the evening, outside of normal opening hours, visitors were invited to follow a route around the castle, one at a time, at 10-minute intervals. Being on their own, at night, immediately gave visitors a sense of focus and serenity – perhaps even eeriness – that transformed their relationship with the spaces they were in. They were invited to engage in creative and interactive tasks.

After Dark at Brodie Castle


Here we are, at the start of our adventure.
When I ask you to, push open the door in front of you.
Enter the room and close the door behind you.
Inside you'll find a host. They'll show you where to go.
Are you ready? Let's open the door.

Visitors’ relationships with the spaces they entered were also radically altered through their physical experience. In the first room, visitors sat upon a couch, with their feet upon a footrest, and were invited to enjoy a dram of whisky. In the second room, they sat at a large study table covered in historical artefacts and making-materials, at which they made their own witch bottle. In the third room, they sat at the head of a large dining table and were served refreshments by a steward in black tie. In the fourth and final room, they sat in an armchair by a fireplace and engaged in a writing activity, which formed part of a gift to take away with them.

In each instance the visitor was framed as a resident of the property – perhaps one of its previous owners – and invited to feel as if they were ‘one of the family’ rather than a paying guest. Their experience of the spaces was focused, intimate and designed to reflect every aspect of day-to-day human activity, from eating and drinking to inventing and problem-solving, so providing a fully satisfying, holistic taste of ‘living’ in the property.

A formal dining room laid out at Brodie Castle. A long oval table is covered in white linen and set for dinner with 8 places. A large mirror hangs over the fireplace. Lamps set around the edges of the room provide a soft light.
The softly lit dining room at Brodie Castle

Visitors were guided along their journey by the use of a binaural (3D) soundtrack played through headphones. A female narrator offered instructions for navigating the route around the castle while also telling stories and guiding visitors through a number of practical tasks.

Importantly, the stories told were not usually shared on regular daytime tours and were intended as much to facilitate visitors establishing an emotional response to/relationship with the narrator and her worldview, as about the facts of the stories themselves. This approach emphasised the notion of histories as living texts and the potential role of visitors to engage with and debate their relationship to those histories. For example, by employing a female narrator while also emphasising the stories of key female figures in the life of the property, there was the opportunity to subtly and constructively offer an alternative standpoint to the traditionally male-centric history of the property.

The National Trust for Scotland exists to protect everything that makes this country so special – our history, culture, landscapes, wildlife and our people. Now, more than ever, it’s important we all care for the things that really matter. We’re working hard to share new stories and perspectives on Scotland’s heritage, and we need your help so we can continue this important work for generations to come.

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