WISH Upon A Frozen Star, this season’s illuminated Castle Howard Christmas event, has been cancelled “with great sadness”.
In response to the Government enforcing national Lockdown 2 from today until December 2, the senior team at the North Yorkshire country house has “spent a lot of time trying to find ways to make the light show event work”.
“However, the conclusion is that it is not logistically or financially viable to try to delay the get-in period and the opening of the event,” reads today’s official statement.
Wish Upon A Frozen Star would have combined a light-trail walk through the Walled Gardens, a performance of a 20-minute theatre piece by York playwright Mike Kenny, presented by Leeds children’s theatre company Tutti Frutti, and a light show projected onto the façade of the John Vanbrugh-designed late-17th century house by projection designer Ross Ashton’s company The Projection Studio, experts in delivering magical illuminated outdoor events.
When Wish Upon A Frozen Star was first announced, Ross said: “Castle Howard is a jewel of British architecture and a beautiful and inspiring place to work. I believe that this will be the largest projection mapping at any illuminated garden this year; the house alone will be covered with over eight million pixels.
“Creating the light trail and the projection in this year especially has been a challenge and we salute Castle Howard for having the vision to create something new.”
Billed as a “festive outdoor spectacle like no other”, the hour-long Christmas event would have run from November 27 to December 31, replacing the usual themed spectacular Christmas decoration tour through the house.
Castle Howard’s website says: “All bookers will be contacted by See Tickets to organise refunds and we thank you for your support and understand there will be many disappointed people.
“We are extremely disappointed ourselves not to be able to make this new magical event happen this year, but the safety of our staff, our visitors and the financial stability of the organisation have to take priority to ensure we can come back next year with another Christmas event that will once again surprise and delight our visitors.
“We’d like to say a huge thanks to our creative partners on these events, who have worked so hard alongside Castle Howard to explore every option during the past few months and particularly given the lockdown news we received at the weekend.”
What will Wish Upon A Frozen Star ticket holders now be missing? Picture the scene: Jack Frost has cast an icy spell, turning the Castle Howard Walled Gardens into a beautiful winter wonderland.
As twilight falls, you would journey through this enchanted world lit up by festive illuminations and immersive soundscapes. The only way to thaw the frosty spell and bring good cheer back in time for Christmas is to make a wish under Yorkshire’s starry skies and step out into a golden landscape of warmth, joy and wonder.
Your journey would climax with an epic story, projected as a light show by Sheffield-born Ross Ashton, who created the Northern Lights installation for York Minster in June 2018 and October 2019.
Working in tandem with audio artist and designer Karen Monid, whose layers of sounds enrich the sensory experience, he also has lit up the exterior of Buckingham Palace and Durham Cathedral and provided lighting extravaganzas for the 2012 London Olympics and the Edinburgh Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle.
Tutti Frutti and writer Mike Kenny had been working with the creative lighting and sound team to bring to life the characters to be discovered as you adventure through the light trail.
On your journey though Jack Frost’s frozen kingdom you would meet the live action animals who have fallen foul of the icy spell and would need you to wish for Christmas and warmth to return to their world.
The animal characters would interact with audiences on the walk through the Walled Gardens, in a socially distanced way, both keeping the flow of visitors moving and telling magical and humorous stories along the way. Olivier Award-winning Kenny was writing the live-action material to be performed by a cast of five, directed by Tutti Frutti artistic director Wendy Harris, with costumes designed by Catherine Chapman.
For the light show event, timed ticketing, limited capacity and careful management of the socially distanced visitor flow of parties of up to six to the large South Front lawn would have been the Covid-safe measures.
Mike Kenny says: “It all started with the visual idea for the big lighting show and we came on board later when Abbi [Castle Howard head of marketing Abbigail Ollive], with her theatre background, suggested adding actors and a narrative.”
He came up with a story rooted in Christmas in the shadow of Covid. “Jack Frost has frozen the gardens, so there’ll be no Christmas and Father Christmas is being kept out. Only a battle between Father Christmas and Jack Frost can resolve this.”
The conundrum faced by Mike was the need to keep the drama as well as the audience on the move, “rather than being rooted to the spot or creating a log jam”. “In the gardens, the actors would not be in touch with each other, not close enough to communicate, so the stories wouldn’t have too much narrative because it wouldn’t matter if the audience members didn’t catch everything when they were constantly on the move,” he says.
Mike would have worked further on the script in situ, discovering what would and would not have been possible, but he had settled on the story featuring animals that would have been most affected by a frozen winter.
“I learnt that in that situation, animals either migrate, hibernate or store food,” he says. “We chose animals you would find in the Castle Howard gardens, without going the full Enid Blyton on it, and we gave them human personas connected with the house.
“The Robin had the character of a steward or butler, greeting audience members as they went into the gardens. The Squirrel was the gardener; the Hedgehog, the housekeeper; the Peacock, the Lady’s maid, with a Cinderella vibe to her, dressing in her mistress’s posh clothes, and the Rabbit, the scullery maid.”
Mike does not hide his disappointment at Wish Upon A Frozen Star not going ahead. “To have pulled something out of the hat for Christmas was great, and we were all really fired up for doing a show,” he says. “The whole Covid situation has sapped the energy of the creative industries, but this Christmas event would have looked amazing.
“The Castle Howard architecture has its own theatricality, which was such a gift for us. You can tell that someone with a sense of theatre had his hand in it [playwright turned architect John Vanbrugh]!”
No-go for Wish Upon A Frozen Star, but Castle Howard is continuing to plan for both Father Christmas in the House and the Courtyard Grotto from Friday, December 4.
“We have had to cancel Father Christmas performances in the House from November 28 to December 3 due to lockdown restrictions,” the Castle Howard statement reads. “See Tickets will be in touch with bookers to offer refunds on these performances or try to get you into a later show.
“It is our sincere hope that performances from December 4 will be allowed to continue. For people who booked Father Christmas tickets in conjunction with the light show, we will be contacting you directly to refund a proportion of your ticket.
“If you would like to cancel your Father Christmas tickets – either Enchanted Audience with Father Christmas or the Storytime with Santa Grotto – because you cannot now come to the light show, then this is fine and you will be offered a refund. Please bear with us while we work through all bookers with our partners at See Tickets.”
Wish Upon A Frozen Star may have been frozen out by the ongoing Corona crisis, but Castle Howard’s website affirms the possibility of revisiting the collaboration: “We certainly hope, and intend, to continue the partnership with The Projection Studio, Tutti Frutti and our associated production teams on future events,” it says.