S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

Chasing Story at Dickens World

After the nicely-realized graveyard, the stream washed our boat around the corner to a procession of wax figures who weren't even from Great Expectations. We'd spent the previous seven-or-so minutes floating through an unsuccessful police chase of a vaguely sympathetic escaped criminal, and now that we were at the end of chapter one, the ride was nearly over. Time for a quick rundown on other Dickens criminals before two staff members dressed as convicts helped us out of our boat.

C. and I were in the front and morganlf and cliosfolly were in the back of the boat, drenched from the log flume's one real moment of free fall. We knew story when we saw it, and we'd just been watching an escaped convict successfully hide. We knew where our loyalties were meant to lie. So after the wax procession and rounding the corner, the two staff members asked us, "Did you see our mate back there?" We shook our heads and all decisively professed ignorance. "Just back there. He was dressed just like me." Really. We swore we hadn't. We were so vehement about it that the other staff member stepped around the corner to check that the wax figures were still there. They were entirely thrown by our entry into Story and away from a literal experience of the world.

That moment encapsulates our afternoon at Dickens World. This outpost of Victoriana was all about "seedy lite" - the family-friendly elements from the seedy side of Dickensiana. No abusive bankers or comfortably middle class folks here. Equally, no children more abused than hungry. Prostitutes would have been Right Out.

The stairs wind down to a central courtyard full of lessons in jump-rope and folk songs on a guitar. A crowd sit at tables, eating, and a wagon sells toys. The Prison is the entrace to the log flume, and the decrepit half-medieval/half-Victorian confection is Ebeneezer Scrouge's Haunted House. It's not all that haunted, really. It's a series of nicely-projected storylets from Dickens - that is, the projection is good. The storytelling was incoherent, chaotic. A Christmas Carol was all character, no rational plot development. The one member of our group who'd read Nicholas Nickleby couldn't follow its projected rendition. The set of four projects which comprised the house were in four rooms - and we had to run from room to room if we wanted to arrive in time for the next one to start.

It wasn't all disappointment. The 3D animated story of Dickens' life was entertaining, and the basic ambiance had a whole lot of promise. The basic idea is so wonderfully perverse that it inspired us to go check it out in the first place. But put four story-centered literature junkies together in a hall full of character and ambiance and we'll go chasing after story wherever we see the slightest shreds of it.

As a result, we spent much of our time gleefully speculating as to how we'd have done it if we had been the ones building Dickens World. The haunted house should have been Miss Havisham's - far creepier, and a way of offering at least a sliver of gentry. I think there should have been pickpockets - but make it a game. Everyone is issued a brightly-color scarf on arrival and challenged to catch a pickpocket trying to take it. As an educational tie-in, give lessons in pickpocket awareness. There were not nearly enough top hats.

Dickens World is superficial rat-free sleeze which uses Dickens' books for theme more than content. It's in a warehouse in a shopping mall near the Historic Chattham Dockyards, next door to a movie theater and a handful of usual chain restaurants, an hour's drive east of London, but theoretically accessible by train and taxi. It's young, a mere six months, and I'm under the impression that more is planned for it in the future. Still, as it now stands, I don't need to go back.

You can read another report on our afternoon here.
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