York Dungeon – Review
by Roger Crow
A few minutes into my experience at York Dungeon, I have been dubbed “Edvig, from the village of Howden, with the simple clothes and simple hair.” I don’t know whether to be insulted or not.
My partner and around 20 other fellow travellers are about to embark on a dark, grungy odyssey involving highwaymen, torturers, judges, executioners and suspect shady types. Not that we know it when we queue up on a packed Sunday. It’s a rare day when York locals are given free admission, so little wonder it’s busy.
I’ve been walking past this attraction for decades and never experienced the wonders within. I’d expected something on a par with Madame Tussaud’s rather than an interactive live theatre experience.
As we enter the first pit stop at the top of dark, narrow stairs, there’s a staged photo opp. Normally I steer clear of those photo traps where you wield props and look terrified in front of green screens. However, the team guiding us to photographic immortality do a terrific job.
So, as we’re led into a dingy room, and I am dubbed “Edvig” by a rather effective monk character, we embark on a journey of eccentric medieval York types who carry out some of the less savoury jobs in an era of leeches and quack medicine, or judges passing out harsh sentences.
I won’t spoil every attraction, but as someone more used to hi-tech entertainment in US theme parks, it’s reassuring to know that sensory deprivation is still the greatest form of tension for low tech attractions. You don’t need multi-million dollar animatronics. Just turn the lights off occasionally.
The same thing worked in the early 1990s with a low-tech, high impact attraction called Alien War, in which a mix of flashing lights and dry ice glossed over the nuts and bolts setting and did a great job of transporting customers to a world of xenomorphs and facehuggers.
I’ve no idea whether the York Dungeon team could use a smoke machine to create an extra degree of immersion, but it would make some elements even more creepy.
“Great way to kill an hour”
By the time we exit through the gift shop (naturally); collect our terrific photo (me wielding a sword, Rachel looking slightly scared with an axe in front of York Minster), and emerge back onto the streets of York in 2018, we reflect on a wonderfully different experience.
It’s one of life’s ironies that I’ve experienced Universal Studios and assorted Disney Parks dozens of times each over the past decade and yet never bothered with those on my doorstep. (Alton Towers, for example, is an hour’s drive from my house and I last went 40 years ago).
Some similar US attractions, usually involving tight spaces and blind alleys, with overacting ‘psychos’ hiding behind doors usually give me a stress headache. Thankfully there’s none of that here. There’s just the right balance of comedy, chills and drama to make it work.
Young kids might get nightmares, but for this older kid looking for something a little different, York Dungeon is a great way to kill an hour or more.
Horribly good fun.
The York Dungeon: 12 Clifford Street, York YO1 9RD
Check site for opening times
Tickets from £11
More info: thedungeons.com