Children’s Underground Tour offers families the chance to be guided round Edinburgh’s haunted vaults. At 40 minutes, do not expect much depth in the historical analysis of the vaults themselves. As a children’s tour, however, it is the perfect length: the children seemed neither bored nor did they start impatiently shuffling around while the guide was talking. The vast majority of the tour was dedicated to stories of the supernatural and the time that wasn’t spent on ghosts was spent on torture, eliciting much perturbing glee from the young audience.
Upon entering the underground the group was ushered into a room decked out in torture devices, lit dramatically with blue and red. Combined with the carefully constructed wonky walls this made for a very atmospheric start-point. A feast for the senses, one young boy noted ‘so this is what the underground smells like.’ At this stage, however, the atmosphere was not matched by the guide who did not engage the children much, turning his attention away whenever the opportunity presented itself. This continued throughout the connecting sections of the tour, as storytelling gave way to mundane directions. It would not have been difficult to maintain some form of performance illusion here as the walking sections are not long.
The set pieces were far stronger, ranging from tales of the ghosts present to viewing a real Wiccan ceremony room that is still in use today. The group even has the opportunity to feel a ghost trapped by the resident witches. The matter of spirits and witches is also handled with great sensitivity. Rather than playing for cheap scares, the guide took time to explain how their witches try to be a force for good. In one touching instance, the ghosts of those who died in the vaults are described as sad, we were told if we saw them to give them a smile to show we cared.
Though immediately accessible to the children, the experience seemed shallow for older audience members. I was hoping to learn more about the Wiccan clan that dwelt there and their history, but it was glossed over speedily. As an experience geared towards fun rather than information, a greater emphasis on performance was needed. Occasionally the storytelling became dry when the guide was trying to balance learning and entertainment, total commitment to the acting would have made this a more satisfying experience.