Monday 25 June 2012

The London Dungeon, Tooley Street, central London

If you book online, you'll get cheaper tickets and you'll jump the often-lengthy queue for The London Dungeon, a bloodthirsty and macabre stalwart of the capital's tourist circuit. You may still need to queue inside a murky mock graveyard, complete with gargoyles, tombstones and an incongruous video  promoting the London Sealife centre. Once you have shown your email receipt, you head into the very dark and very dingy passageways, lined with cages with live rats, scattered with mutilated mannequins and patrolled by a short, scary woman with a pet rodent of her own. She is enough to get young girls screaming, but adults may find her colleague - a tall man in hooded robes more alarming. He has a weird voice, bulging eyes and a habit of banging the floor hard when you least expect it. After he has given a little speech about the crypt where he "works", you are ushered into a confusing maze of mirrors.

A sinister monologue
During the 90 minute tour, you work your way through a sometimes funny and often creepy potted history of London's dark underbelly. Highlights (or maybe lowlights) include watching a surgeon ripping the organs out of a (fake) corpse, a spinning 3D ride based on a spooky Victorian seance, a sinister monologue in Sweeney Todd's barber's shop, Mary Queen of Scots burning a heretic and a re-creation of an 18th Century court hearing, in which a witty judge sentences visitors to arbitrary punishments for random crimes against London and fashion. Only the sedate water ride is really underwhelming.

The hangman's noose
For most of the tour, you are in the dark literally and figuratively. From time to time, unseen objects brush your neck, your head or your ankles. One of the best scenes is the barmen's nervy recounting of the story of Jack the Ripper in the pub where many of his victims drank, while the ride simulating the hangman's noose might also get your pulse racing.

Too many visitors
All in all, the London Dungeon is a well-honed assault on the nerves and the senses: Only smells and tastes aren't part of its repertoire. However, the acting is of variable quality - some of the Dungeon's inhabitants deliver their lines a little too quickly. Moreover, at times, you are surrounded by too many visitors - diluting the tension and meaning you may have to hang around for some of the rides. If you resist the temptation to buy the snapshots of you looking scared and the gift shop's wares, London Dungeon is good value for an afternoon with the family - as long as your kids have a robust disposition. 8/10