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Dickens World (Chatham)
Member Name: Mildew82
Dickens World (Chatham)
Date: 23/05/09, updated on 28/05/09 (594 review reads)
Advantages: Authentic and atmospheric place as a great introduction to the life and times of Dickens
Disadvantages: Will be very disappointing if believed to be a theme park
Dickens World, created 2 years ago and located in an odd little complex in Chatham, Kent, doesn't seem like much from the outside in the middle of a car park surrounded by an Odeon cinema and shopping mall. However, when you step through the doors the modern world suddenly slips away and you are transported back in time to the dark and dingy Victorian times that all of Charles Dickens' novels so graphically portrayed.
A word of warning - if you are expecting a theme park similar to Disney World you will be disappointed, but if you want the world of Dickens brought to life before your very eyes you will not be disappointed here!
As you first enter Dickens World you step into a large courtyard and as you take in your surroundings you'll find a lot of fun reminders of the past. There are posters dotted around the walls offering the delights of a two-headed, five-legged horse or warning about master criminals skulking around the area, and even the dangers of cholera - all very subtle and indicative stories from the Victorian time period. Also lurking round most corners are some real life actors, all in their best Victorian garb and characters to help guide you round Dickens World.
To add to this authenticity there were some very realistic shops in the courtyard to help you imagine yourself in a genuine street in Dickensian times (at least from the outside as the insides were used for other purposes) and those were Peerybingle's Pawnbrokers and Collard's Grocery. There was also a little Crime and Punishment Area with a nice little hangman's noose just reminding you to stay on the right side of the law.
With the scene firmly set you could then move on to the main attractions. Dickens World is clearly aimed at children and as a result the attractions are all suitable for children, but there is plenty to be enjoyed by adults. There are a few timed events which include some Courtyard and some Britannia Theatre shows, but you are free to wander the world at your leisure in between these events (none of which are mandatory!).
Dotheboy's Hall is in fact an old Victorian boarding school and the first thing you are greeted by upon entry is a stern schoolmaster. With a viper tongue and very disapproving look and after much profuse apologising for your tardiness you are allowed entrance to the school room.
Once you have found a seat at one of the very uncomfortable benches you will be confronted by a game of snakes and ladders with the questions being on - you've guessed it - Charles Dickens. The schoolmaster will be meandering around all the pupils silently like a ghost ready to pounce on any failure and severely reprimand you in front of the class.
If you fail to score 20 points you will be cruelly punished - but thankfully (or unfortunately depending on your personality type) this never happened to anyone in my classroom!
This attraction is clearly aimed at children as the questions were rather easy to answer, but I personally think it was a good way to get them learning about Dickens and a variety of his novels as well as the Victorian times and how school life must have been so very different for those children "lucky" enough to get the chance of an education! Plus, there's something humbling as an adult to be told off in front of a room full of people - it makes you remember the good old days at school again which is always good for the soul.
Whilst Dotheboy's Hall was a good way to cover a wide variety of Dickens topics, the Boat Ride is aimed at telling the story of Great Expectations. At bust times you may have to wait for up to 45 minutes to get on, but I was fortunate enough to arrive before anyone else and managed to get straight on (there were quite a lot of interesting adornments and posters on the walls to allow you to pass a long wait with some entertainment).
There are a few warnings that people with back or neck problems should not attempt this ride, and an even bigger warning that you could get seriously wet, so this actually made you a little tense at the start just through the fear of the unknown which is always good for any ride. The ride starts slowly enough with a gentle flow through the streets of London on either side of the river banks as a narration begins from speakers within your boat to retell the story of Great Expectations.
Then as the story starts to heat up, so does the ride with a sudden change of tempo which actually gives you a bit of a thrill (I won't tell you how as that would spoil it) and a lot more moisture to contend with. Then the ride returns to normality and you continue round the streets of London for the remainder of the story.
I thought this was a very nice and simple way to get the story across to children - to tell it whilst they were experiencing some excitement could be a good way to make the story stick - in fact the same may apply to adults!
The Haunted Man
The name for this attraction is based upon one of Dickens' Christmas novellas "The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain" but isn't actually about this story. This attraction concentrates on the darker more chilling and supernatural elements from a mixture of Dickens' novels including the three ghosts visiting Scrooge, an unsettling suicide from Nicholas Nickelby and many others as well as an introduction to many characters from his novels - all displayed by using some kind of holographic technology.
You will venture some stairs onto a rickety floor of a Victorian decorated house where through a series of winding dark and slightly claustrophobic passageways you will visit a screen with a chilling or macabre tale which is further emphasised by the ethereal quality of the holographic images.
I found this attraction to be my favourite as it was slightly more aimed at adults though I'm sure children would enjoy it and it was a unique way of telling the stories that I'd never come across before.
The Courtyard Shows
On the day that I attended there were three shows running throughout the day - Oliver Twist, a Tale of Two Cities and then a repeat of Oliver Twist. I only saw the Oliver Twist one, but I would imagine that a Tale of Two Cities would have been performed in a similar manner.
The style of the show required a lot of audience participation (a mob of Fagian's children were required) and was actually a kind of mime show where the words from the story were pre-recorded and the actors in the show would mime along to it rather than speaking the words themselves.
This was a style of show I'd never come across before, but I was given the impression that it was used in Victorian times but had died out today so again this was a lovely little piece of history to be gained.
The show was very entertaining and was yet again another quick and simple way to get the essence of one of Dickens' novels across, particularly to children, especially as they get to act in them as well.
This attraction is a 4D HD cinema experience (no they haven't somehow mastered the art of quantum mechanics and broken through into a universe consisting of four dimensions - it's actually a 3D cinema with some surround sound and wind) covering the travels that Dickens took in the latter part of his life.
I actually think this was one of the best 3D (sorry 4D) cinema shows that I had been to as the story was a very interesting and informative one and some of the images literally flew towards you, and I found myself flinching on several occasions due to how realistic it all was. Adults and children would both enjoy this show!
Other areas to visit at Dickens World include Fagin's Den, The Britannia Theatre, the shop and the restaurant (6 Jolly Fellowship Porters).
Fagin's Den I believe is only for very tiny children as you had to be 1 metre or less to enter, and even by walking on my knees they still wouldn't let me in but I suspect this would be an area that toddler's or very young children could enjoy.
The Britannia Theatre holds a variety of different shows - there was an animatronic stage show on whilst I was there - which unfortunately I failed to catch, and it looks like in the evenings there are many other shows available, for example the Jongleurs comedy circuit arrives on certain nights which if you're interested are worth looking out for. I did peer in to the actual theatre which looked quite nice, with only a row of seating around the outskirts of the floor so the main show will take place in the centre, with a velvety looking red decor to give it an authentic theatre feel.
I really liked the shop as it had a nice array of products to buy, from jigsaw puzzles to ships to build, and lots of DVDs and books, but some were a little steeply priced, e.g. the make your own ships at £200 plus, but I guess that was due to the quality of the product and for all I know that could have been reasonable. Having said that, they were offering the box set of all of the Wordsworth published Charles Dickens novels at a reduced price of £25 from £36 which was very good value for money.
The 6 Jolly Fellowship Porters Restaurant has a nice range of hot and cold light lunches and a bar - all which are very reasonably priced. Your food and cutlery is brought over to you with a minimum of fuss and the staff are very friendly. No complaints here!
Daytime - 10am - 5:30pm
Children (5-15) £7.30
Children (Under 5) FREE
Evening - 3pm - 5:30pm
Children (5-15) £6.00
Children (Under 5) FREE
At being only 2 years old, Dickens World still has some room for expansion as there are only a limited number of attractions, but with diverse and imaginative ways to tell the stories of Dickens which will appeal to both adults and children, Dickens World is a realistic and atmospheric place, with friendly (except when they're in character) and helpful staff and an attention to detail to be proud of - it is the perfect way to bring to life the world of Charles Dickens.
Just don't expect a theme park!!
Summary: A great place to learn about and experience Dickensian times
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