London Dungeon review
I hate the London Dungeon.
I actually hate it, in the same way that cats hate dogs. I know that is a very strong word to use about something that is supposed to be fun, but there you go -- that is the truth. The scariest thing about the Dungeons, to me, is the thought of having to visit it. I went there a couple of years ago and the best bit was walking out the exit. So when they announced that they were going to move it from London Bridge and rebuild it at the County Hall, I knew that meant I was going to have to visit it again. Aaargh!
As you're queuing up for the show to begin you can hear a soundtrack of moans and groans and blood curdling screams coming from deep inside the building. They are not actors doing that -- that is the actual sound of tourists as they discover how much it costs to take a family inside. That is probably the scariest thing about the whole place for an adult -- the price. You can see dads walking around with pained expressions on their faces, like they have just undergone some horrific form of torture. The mums don't care -- the dads are paying. The kids don't care either. The first bit of torture for the dads is stumping up 90 quid for a family of four.
To be fair to them, the show isn't as bad as I remember from two years ago. The Tooley Street dungeon was definitely worse. The County Hall one starts off in a dark smelly warren of cells, where you can hear all the prisoners clanking and banging behind the doors. It's all red fiery lanterns and dirty cobbled streets. It does set the mood quite well I suppose -- I'll give them that. Then you get led through a series of scripted scenes, played out by actors in gruesome suits and costumes. A lot of it depends on how good the actors are, and they were pretty good today -- I will give them that as well. A couple of them really got into character and had the whole room smiling and laughing at their gags.
Let me just warn you about something, in case you're a bit of a scary cat: it is extremely dark inside (even darker than dark) and some of the noises are incredibly loud. You will have bangs and clatters and screams and squeals going off two feet from your face, and I reckon they've pumped in some smells too. There is no let up to the darkness for ninety minutes -- no bright scenes at all -- it's pretty relentless.
The crowd I went round with today probably numbered about twenty people, and I was thankful that it had quite a few kids in it, because they always seemed to get picked on for the victims. Practically every scene involves the actor singling out a stranger (or two), to get shouted at, stabbed at, hauled into the dock, strung up, locked in a cage... you get the idea. It is a very interactive show, and the odds of you having to say something along the way are quite high (do what I did -- stand at the back and hug the wall!). I'm not exactly the life and soul of a party, so this wasn't much fun for me -- that's why I hate the place.
Let's see if I can remember all of the scenes...
It starts off with a scary lift down to the docks, which shakes about a bit and lurches left and right. Then you'll have a nice little boat ride through Traitor's Gate, where you'll meet Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. This is the bit that will blow your eardrums out -- and you'll get a bit wet too. But it's quite a fun start I suppose. Then you'll meet one of Guy Fawkes' co-conspirators hiding in the tunnels under Parliament. I thought this guy deserved an Oscar for his acting, because he was brilliant. Someone will get picked on at this point, and ordered to carry a warning letter into the next scene. That's where you'll meet Guy Fawkes himself (well... just his head) and witness Parliament getting blown up. Then you'll brave the plague, and see someone getting sliced up by the doctor. Then you'll be walking the foggy streets of Whitechapel where Jack the Ripper cut up his victims. There's a good little scene in a pub here, where you'll meet Jack the Lad himself. Then it's into Mrs Noggin's pie shop and Sweeney Todd's barber shop...
After that comes my least favourite scene of all -- the Kangaroo Court. That's where they stick a few people in the dock and laugh at them. You are either going to like this scene or loathe it. Every time I've seen it (which is a couple of times now) I've ended up feeling sorry for the poor tourist who can't speak decent English, can't understand why she's being laughed at, and clearly had no wish to be singled out.
Then it's onto Newgate Prison and the final ride, where you'll get strapped into a seat and plummet ten metres to your death (and the exit... hooray!).
So how does it compare to the old London Dungeon in Tooley Street? Well... I still hated it, but that's probably just me being a misery. It was definitely better than the old one. The scenes, sounds and decorations are a lot better, and there were parts of the show that actually made my heart pump. The rides are still basically the same with a few little tweaks; except they've got rid of that awful 3D laser-zapping one, which is a definite improvement. But at the end of the day it's still just a big walk from scene to scene, hugging the wall and trying to avoid getting hauled out of the crowd.
On their website they recommend that your kids are over the age of eight, and I think that's about right. Some scenes are definitely scary enough to make a little kid cry.
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