Castle Howard delights in stories in fairtyale Christmas installation Into The Woods

The Nutcracker in Into The Woods at Castle Howard. All pictures: Peter Seaward

CASTLE Howard’s winter installation, Into The Woods, A Fairytale Christmas is drawing record numbers.

After the frosted, icy spectacle of Christmas In Narnia last winter, Charlotte Lloyd Webber Event Design and The Projection Studio have returned to transform North Yorkshire’s stateliest home’s grand rooms into a “wonderland of happily-ever-afters, fair maidens, magical forests and faraway kingdoms”, bringing cherished fairy tales to life with a sight-and-sound combination of theatrical installations and state-of-the-art soundscapes.

“All around the house, tales which have drifted through the forests of our memory since early childhood now weave amongst each other to conjure up the world of once-upon-a-time,” say Nicholas and Victoria Howard in the visitors’ guide.

“Reinvented again and again, these fairytales are as much a part of our heritage as the walls of this house and its towering dome. Their names alone are enough to plunge us into the warm milk of childhood memories.

“Weave your way through this magical fairytale world and who knows? Maybe you’ll live happily ever after your visit to a Christmas like no other.”

Creating A Fairytale Christmas’s world of fantasy, inspired by Stepehen Sondheim’s 1987 musical Into The Woods, is the work of a multi-disciplined team, headed by artistic director/interior designer Charlotte Lloyd Webber and design director Adrian Lillie, co-directors of CLW Event Design.

The Christmas table at Into The Woods at Castle Howard

Senior designer Dave O’Donnell, sculptor Mandy Bryson, model and prop designer Mark and the floristry team of Laura Newby and Celina Fallon play their part.

So does the Production Studio duo of video projection designer Ross Ashton and sound designer/audio artist Karen Monid, whose light and sound installation Platinum And Light illuminated the nave of York Minster from October 20 to 27 this autumn, just as their Northern Lights installation had done so in October 2019.

Charlotte and Adrian have known each other for 25 years – originally as an actress/producer and costume designer respectively – and have overseen the magical winter transformations of Castle Howard for six years.

“This gig came about slightly by accident,” recalls Adrian. “We’d come up to do some outdoor Shakespeare, but the programme planning changed. Victoria [Howard] then said, ‘we need someone to design a Christmas installation. Do you know anyone who could do it?’. We thought, ‘well, we could’!

“That first year, we were very conscious of taking it back to the house’s roots, to architect John Vanbrugh’s theatrical roots. We used a lot of dry floristry and delicate fabrics, and we soon found we needed a lot more ‘product’ as it can be sucked up in such grand rooms.

“Year on year, we lay on more and more, and so Into The Woods is our most ambitious installation yet.” Be it Rapunzel’s tower looming over the Great Hall, where her golden braid offers an escape route; Jack’s giant beanstalk, winding its way around a steel construction up to the roof of the Garden Hall, or the 20,000 baubles glittering in room after room.

York artist Emily Sutton’s artwork for the Into The Wood press invitation, publicity leaflet and visitors’ guide

“We use ‘filler’ from the previous year’s story, like on the China Landing, where the materials have been used before, but with a new top layer created for the new theme,” says Adrian of a scene where the mirror forms the archway into the woods.

“We still re-use items from the first year; we use paper and silk, we avoid plastics, so we’re always thinking about sustainability. For the last four years, the big Christmas tree had come from Scotland but to discover there were suitable trees on the Castle Howard estate for this Christmas was wonderful.”

This year, CLW Event Design also created Bamburgh Castle’s Christmas installation, The Twelve Days Of Christmas – whose first version was on display at Castle Howard in 2018 – as the Lloyd Webber-Linnie partnership thrives on ever-growing challenges. “We’ve worked together so long, we finish each other’s sentences,” says Adrian.

“We learn more every year, thinking outside the box, trying to be more outrageous and bringing in the team to get their ideas – and we have an incredibly strong team now, who are so encouraging.”

Adrian revelled in doing the Long Gallery finale for the first time this year for Prince Charming’s Ball, with its golden coach and lavish gowns, but his favourite is the Music Room, where the Elves must deal with a massive order of party shows for the upcoming ball.

The Wicked Queen Grimhilde, the Snow Queen, the Wolf, Princess Aurora, Red Riding Hood, Rapuunzel and Gretel have all submitted their measurements. “That room has a really lovely feel,” says Adrian. “It required lots of shoe shopping online and buying in sales! For all the joy I had with the costumes, finding the right boots and shoes has been a lot of fun too, capturing each character in their footwear.”

Castle Howard ventures into fairytales for Christmas

Look out for Red Riding Hood’s thigh-high boots, the big bad Wolf’s killer heels in polka dots and the Sugar Plum Fairy’s ballet shoes, gorgeous all of them!

Audio artist Karen Monid took on a new task for Into The Woods. “There are voices in the installation this time [such as Francine Brody for Wicked Queen Grimhelde and Beth Hayward for the Witch], and because each room focuses on a particular tale and character that I could draw on, I then had to pick the right emotion,” she says.

“Charlotte produces her mood board to say what each room represents, and I also had to be aware that it’s a trail with a beginning and an end. Last year it was easier because it was just one story [C S Lewis’s The Chronicles Of Narnia]; this year there are so many stories and characters; at least ten stories, four of them in the first four rooms [Princess Aurora, alias Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding Hood, Hansel & Gretel and Snow White].

“The most difficult was the fourth one [the Castle Howard Bedroom], where Snow White’s mother is essentially dead and the Wicked Queen is very much alive. You think, ‘how do I do that in sound in one room?’. I decided to treat the mother like a ghost, so even though the new queen has moved in, there’s always an echo of the mother she could have had from before, with the angelic quality of the harp playing, which then fades away as more strident music comes in.”

Attention to detail is paramount, from the Goose honking to the elves starting to hammer when an alarm goes off. “The passing of time and the sense of the tempo picking up runs through the installation [leading to the clock striking 12 at Prince Charming’s ball]. If you pick up on the chimes as you walk round, you will find that the time is getting later,” says Karen.

“In Hansel & Gretel’s room [the Castle Howard Dressing Room], the cuckoo clock strikes three; in the ‘creators’ room’ [the New Library] for The Nutcracker, the clock strikes six in a scene with a steam punk edge to it. In the Crimson Dining Room, the Sugar Plum Fairy is a clockwork figure.

The beanstalk climbs to the Garden Hall ceiling in the Into The Woods installation. Look out for the tiny figure of Jack starting his ascent

“That’s why this installation feels so full, with all that detail, like the music changing to reflect the origins of each story, some being French, some German, and only one English, Jack And The Beanstalk.”

Listen to the female voices. “All the good female characters sing, while the bad characters only speak, and they say too many words, like the Witch still talking in the Great Hall while Rapunzel is singing in her tower,” says Karen. “Music is of the heart, connecting with the soul, that’s why they sing.

“I love it when Rapunzel hits her high notes and the glass shatters. ‘Lovely,’ says Rapunzel! That brings a pantomime touch to it, but you always know you’re in their world.”

Ross, who voices the Giant in the Jack And Beanstalk scene, has brought his projection skills to the Octagon Room, as he did last year for Narnia, Aslan the lion and Father Christmas, and now the Long Gallery too.

“We designed a system for the Long Gallery with as little impact on the space as possible, so you’re not aware of the equipment I use, such as the low-key projector stands,” he says.

“It’s something I learnt when projecting onto Buckingham Palace. No-one wants to see the wires or gaffer tape. Now we’ve done this year’s design, we’ll do even more with it next year.”

Attention to detail in Castle Howard’s Into The Woods installation

As in Sondheim’s musical, the characters from different fairytales interact and conjoin in the story, leading to the happy-ever-after vibe of the young characters turning up as their teenage selves for a party.

That ties in with Charlotte’s desire for regeneration, renewal and sustainability in CLW Event Design’s future. “Everyone took stock during Covid, thinking about ‘what are the events that can address the bigger issues [the environment, climate change] in a joyous way, rather than doom and gloom?’,” she says.

“I come from the world of entertainment but entertainment with a purpose, telling a story in a real-life context.

“We have so little manufacturing left in this country, but if we can find glass manufacturers here, bauble makers here, rather then having to import them from China, people who make things out of wood, if we could rely on cottage industries over here, keeping them in work, that would be a good policy for our installations.

“Next year, I’m hoping to really build that up, starting locally, then regionally, then nationally, rather than importing.”

Into The Woods, A Fairytale Christmas enchants at Castle Howard, near York, until January 2 2023. Tickets:

The “creators room”, evoking The Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault and Professor Drosselmeyer amid a multitude of Nutcrackers in Castle Howard’s New Library

Castle Howard’s fairtyale Christmas installation goes online for virtual tour

FOR the first time, a virtual tour of Castle Howard’s Christmas installation is available to watch online.

The North Yorkshire stately home, near York, has created a 37-minute video of Into The Woods: A Fairytale Christmas for those who “who can’t visit in person, from international tourists who are still facing travel restrictions to Yorkshire locals unable to get out and about as easily”.

The online video offers a detailed exploration of Into The Woods’ fairytale-themed installation that fills Castle Howard’s grand rooms with decoration, soundscapes and projections.

The tour is presented by CLW Event Design artistic director Charlotte Lloyd Webber, who reveals behind-the-scenes details and the creative team’s inspirations room by room.

Abbigail Ollive, head of marketing, sales and programming, says: “Christmas at Castle Howard is famous for its wow factor, and we welcome thousands of visitors through our doors this time of year.

“We wanted to create an enchanting virtual tour that allowed people to experience the magic from their own homes, including local people who can’t get to us; people across the UK who can’t travel to us, and international tourists who are still limited by travel restrictions.”

Profits from the Into The Woods in person and the Virtual Tour experience will be directed towards Castle Howard’s conservation deficit to restore and protect the historic buildings and beautiful landscape stewarded by the estate.

The Virtual Tour is available via for£8, giving viewers unlimited access to watch the video. No closing date for this online service has been set yet.