Sunday, October 1, 2023

Exploring the Darker Side of London: Nick Farmer on the London Dungeon’s secret to success

Nick Farmer
Nick Farmer
Interview by Martin Palicki

In March of 2013, The London Dungeon left its home of 38 years on Tooley St. at London Bridge for larger digs on the SouthBank, directly next to the London Eye. The attraction brings 1,000 years of authentic London history to life with a unique mix of talented live actors performing in short shows that guests experience while walking (and sometimes riding) through the detailed sets.

The attraction relies on solid historical storytelling, an array of theatrical illusions and a variety of haunted house-type special effects. Along the way, guests meet notorious British legends like Guy Fawkes and Jack the Ripper.

InPark toured the attraction recently, and visited with creative consultant Nick Farmer of Farmer Attractions on what has made the Dungeon a long-term success.

How have you been involved in developing the London Dungeon?

I’ve worked on projects for the London Dungeon for many years in its former location, and it was a very exciting project to be part of the core team in handling the move to its new location. Specifically, I was the special effects consultant for the overall show and worked closely with the Creative and Artistic Directors. In addition I supplied the show action seating for the Sweeney Todd and Anatomy shows. Over the years I have worked on shows in all nine of Merlin’s Dungeons in Europe and the USA and have a very good understanding of what makes them so successful.

rymanOrgWhat makes the Dungeons so successful over time?

The Dungeons appeal to the British sense of dark humor, finding the funny side of some of the most dreadful events in history. We have found by ensuring we use stories pertinent to the location of each Dungeon that the formula also works extremely well outside of the UK.

They offer a great blend of historical accuracy, always telling true stories with a lot of tongue in cheek and humor. Highly trained actors bring tremendous vibrancy to each Dungeon visit through their telling of the Dungeon’s tales.

How do you help ensure they attract repeat business?

Every Dungeon every year introduces new shows, meaning there are always new things to see and reasons for a repeat visit. [Editor’s note: For example, this February the attraction was overrun by 18th century grave robbers: The London Burkers. To celebrate Easter, the infamous ‘Chocolate Cream Murderer’ Mrs Christiana Edmunds will be the lead character in another seasonal ‘takeover’ of the Dungeon.] But the key market is first-time visitors, as each Dungeon is located in high profile tourist destinations.

How would you categorize the Dungeon attractions?

The Dungeons are irreverent, mischievous, a bit rude and all the things that so many sanitized attractions have been cleansed of. That’s what makes them fun, and what makes them so engaging. It is often a spur of the moment decision to visit, just an hour and a half out of a tourist’s busy day, and located right in the heart of the tourist trail. The Dungeon offers a great way to spend some time together, and also provide details about the history of the area.

Is the Dungeon model something that can be successful in other forms?

The mixture of great storytelling, live professional actors, high quality theming, subtle but clever technology and attention to detail is a formula for success that can be applied to many attractions. But the absolute fundamental key ingredient is great storytelling. Without great storytelling you are dead — probably hung, drawn and quartered. • • •

Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki
Martin Palicki owns and publishes InPark Magazine. Started in 2004, InPark Magazine provides owners and operators the perspective from "in"side the "park." Martin has also written for publications like Sound & Communications, Lighting & Sound America, Attractions Management and others. Martin has been featured in Time Magazine, and Folio. Martin lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.

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