Tuesday, 15 February 2011

London Landmarks - London Dungeon

Value: 1
Queues: 5
Shop: 7
Family-friendly: 4
Enjoyment: 4

Total: 21/50

It was during my last visit to the London Dungeon that I realised what an awful human being I am. The scene was a spooky chamber where we were being played a video about Jack the Ripper's exploits. There was plenty of gory detail and people's nerves were frayed. Suddenly everything went pitch black. “The ripper is amongst us,” snarled the voice-over. “Get out of the room while you still can.” I fled. Never have I run so fast. Pushing aside tourists, I made it out of the room before anyone else, leaving my family to the mercy of the Ripper's knife. It was at that moment that it dawned on me that I would never be that person who saves their loved ones from a burning building. I'd just look after myself and let them smoulder.

Slightly more grown up but just as selfish I returned to find the London Dungeon almost completely altered. Gone was the reliance on animatronic thrills and spills. Instead real-life actors had been drafted in, showing that in reality, the most scary thing in the world is not a horror film or the global war on terror, but a man with fake blood on his face jumping out at you from the shadows. The acting varies quite a lot. Some of those playing dungeon masters and put-upon wenches do so with an air of barely concealed weariness, their eyes screaming, “I'm better than this! I've done Shakespeare! Didn't you see me as drug dealer three in The Bill?!” Others are excellent, remaining in character throughout. We're not traditionally a nation that likes joining in, but you're swept along in many of the stories, as full of hokum as they are.

The problem is that it's all a little cheesy. While you desperately want to believe that you're locked in a desperate struggle for survival, in reality there's no escaping that this is a tourist attraction. Illuminated signs showing you where the fire exits are located are clearly a necessity but they do somewhat ruin the atmosphere when you're supposedly trapped in the bakery that caused the Great Fire of London. Equally it's hard to be terrified on the boat ride to doom when you're told to keep your arms and legs inside at all times, and those with heart problems are escorted to one side.

The historical events that have been picked are also pretty odd. While the Sweeney Todd experience has me squeezing my friend's hand, and a section on body-snatching is pretty scary, the fire as more of an inconvenience than anything and a room featuring Bloody Mary only raises a shrug. Especially as they don't really explain who she was, leaving the tourists confused as to why we're watching a woman in a bodice screaming about burning protestants.

Far more hair-raising is the room where once again I find myself face to face with the Ripper, this time in a recreation of an East End pub. A chirpy young actor playing an East End landlord with a bit too much of an accent explains that we're in the tavern on the anniversary of the Ripper's first murder. Would he strike again? Of course he would. After ten minutes of building us into a frenzy the lights go out and the Ripper, dressed as the Phantom of the Opera for some unknown reason, jumps out from a cupboard. Even though you know it's coming it still makes you jump. I do that silly little gasp scream thing and feel embarrassed that the tourists next to me are looking bored and dreaming of the gift shop.

I did stay and make sure my companion was OK though. Maybe there's hope for me yet.

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