All around Edinburgh sprawl pop-up theatres, ordinary theatres, churches, even Quaker meeting halls. Hundreds of venues mean your audience may be listening to you in the most obscure of settings. However, I discovered the most obscure and strange of places the other day. Walking down a flight of darkened steps, and having a photo taken with a savage-looking axe before I could enter, this venue seemed the weirdest of them all.
The Edinburgh Dungeons are always available to visit throughout the year, 10-6pm every day. However during the month of August, they have extended the excitement and created a tour incorporating comedy for children and adults alike.
Upon entering, the group was met by the Black Jester; a man with a superbly strong Scottish accent dressed in period clothes, his character acted almost like a theatrical safety blanket, popping up at all the right moments during the tour when perhaps the guests began to feel a little unnerved, cracking one terrible joke after another.
Indeed, comedy proved central to this potentially harrowing attraction. Whilst it is based predominantly on children’s humour this in itself was perfect, given that 80% of the demographic were kids. The original gag about toilet malfunctions had the 8-10 year olds doubled over in hysterics. Parents, I will warn you now, there is audience participation, and if you don’t want to be mock-murdered in front of your child, this is not the thing for you!
There were seven sections to this experience. Beginning in a court of law under the terrifying eye of a 17th-century judge, the tour proceeded through a number of dissection rooms, to the promise of mutilation in torture chambers, to a boat ride which could scare even the least lily-livered adult. Pace was maintained as one is met by character after character throughout each scene, and each one performed their role perfectly, remaining entirely within character even as they explained various safety regulations to do with boat rides and pregnancy.
However, despite such accomplished bombast, dramatics and humour, it was the subtle details of fear that were allowed to creep into the atmosphere that truly made this such a treat. While sitting down in the deepest darkest rooms, you were convinced you felt something below the wooden seat; you were sure of the threats above your head.
At a perfectly-timed fifty minutes, this is a vibrant and exciting way to see the dungeons, and is the perfect mix of terrifying and terrific. Take your children, and enjoy the ride.