Our partners at the York Dungeon invited some of the team down to experience the attraction for ourselves and here’s what happened…
On arrival at the dungeon, my friends and I noticed a group of about 30 school children who were also there to enjoy York’s most popular attraction (I swear school trips were never this good when we were at school?). Despite the dungeon being famed in York as one of the top visitor attractions, many students, myself included, haven’t made the time to visit the attraction that many travel to see. Why not? Honestly, people don’t realise what the dungeon has to offer, aside from being a great place to visit when touring York.
The experience lasts over 75 minutes, which we found to be the perfect amount of time. During the session, visitors are taken through 12 rooms in the dungeon, each with a separate story and actor. Group sizes are around 12- 20 people, meaning it is not overcrowded, but gives the actors a nice variety of people to work with. We were lucky to be part of a great group, full of willing participants, with a ready sense of humour. There were also a few children in the group who seemed to really enjoy the experience, although they seemed a little spooked by some of the special effects which were very convincing and played a huge role in setting the scene. Trying to not ruin it for them, I even found myself asking my friends how different elements had been so convincing. The staff were very accommodating and considerate of children and those with disabilities.
At the start, you are given the opportunity to pose with props and placards, and these pictures are later available to buy in different forms at the end of the experience. My Welsh friend was coincidentally handed a sheep related crime, so of course buying the photos was a no-brainer.
The first few rooms that we entered were based on the Saxons and the Vikings. The first lady that welcomed us wore a full costume and striking Yorkshire accent, both really established high hopes for the experience from the outset. There were tongue-in-cheek jokes dispersed playfully in the anecdotes of historical fact. From the start, members of the group were playfully engaged with as their friends looked on in laughter. That said, it really is up to you how much you choose to get involved. Whilst some quieter members of the group were content to stand at the back and watch, the best way to get the most out of the experience is to stand at the front and accept the mocking jokes of the actors. Is there anything funnier than watching your friend plead guilty to insanity on the court stand whilst dancing like a lunatic?
The rooms themselves are convincing, down to the smell that hangs in the air. Each room is dressed and lit to suit the story that it tells, whether that be the Courtroom, the Tavern, or the Butcher’s house. The special effects are 4D and the technology really makes use of all your senses. The effects were far more advanced than I had expected and contributed greatly to the atmosphere and intensity of the experience. The attention to detail and effort that has gone into these re-enactments is remarkable. The complexity of the costumes and the dressing of each room removes the dungeon from the outside world, you truly forget where you are and are completely transported for the duration of the visit.
The transition between the rooms is smooth. You are only in each room for less than ten minutes so there is no time for you to become bored or ready to move on to the next. The journey between the rooms is interesting, you walk through stone corridors, through narrow archways and tunnels, and navigate rooms of mirrors. Each talented actor offers something different. The jovial antecdotes of the lousy pub landlord are interspersed expertly with sombre tales and myths that verge on the terrifying. The actors use of improvisational humour caters to both adults and children, encouraging everyone in the audience to joke along with them. For me, the perfect balance was struck between humour and the scare-factor, and from the reactions of those around me, the jumps and the black-outs enhanced the fun for everyone.
The York Dungeon was actually very educational in parts too. Think Horrible Histories: facts delivered in a humorous yet stylised way that make people want to listen and take notice. A far more engaging way to learn about York’s history and the figures of Dick Turpin and Guy Fawkes. It wasn’t just run-of-the mill information either, effort has been made to conduct in-depth research and everyone learnt something new. The scenes themselves were curated around the facts, allowing for a compelling portrayal.
The final room that we visited was the Cursed Witch, the Dungeon’s newest attraction. I was lucky enough (or unlucky enough) to be picked out as a witch myself, and thrust into a dingy cage in the corner of the room. The acting from these people is completely advanced and compelling. The witch was positively terrifying, and the strobe lighting and sounds only heightened the authenticity of the experience. Everyone was left really shaken and energised by the actress and her delivery of the lines. The use of lighting in this particular set was very clever and calculated, and the witch made use of the entire room, bouncing off of the reactions of the audience.
When you leave the dungeon, you come into a gift-shop, turned bar area offering excellently priced G&Ts. Whilst I went with a group of good friends – and we’re still laughing about the memories we made over a week later – the Dungeon is also ideal for a date-night, helped by the bar at the end and the evening tickets on offer. I’m really looking forward to taking my parents when they visit soon. Having walked the walls and done all the usual things with them before, the Dungeon is a far better way to spend a Saturday afternoon and a tenner.
The Yorker has partnered with the Dungeon to bring our readers over 40% off with entry at just £10 when you show a University ID. (Link through to ticket page on York Dungeon website here).