Blood and Guts in the Edinburgh Dungeons: Chance to Win a Family Ticket

Posted by Samantha Manthorpe on December 21, 2011 in Blog, Guest Blog tagged with , ,

By Candice Gilliss and Samantha Manthorpe

As a group of friends and classmates on the MLitt in The Gothic Imagination at Stirling, we recently took a trip to The Edinburgh Dungeons, a place set on making sure history really comes alive—albeit only the violent, dark, gory parts. With props and dazzling special effects to hand to actively engage the crowd in a relived version of the city’s bloody past, the actors at The Edinburgh Dungeons have fun scaring the crowd into involuntary screams, and we as a group certainly found the experience both entertaining and worthwhile.

Our initiation into the world of “dark” Edinburgh began with us taking our seats in pews, as if in a court of law, before a fanatical judge who accused random people  in the audience of witchcraft, or simply being ‘guilty’ of hailing from Liverpool, and sentencing them to death by drowning or being burnt at the stake for their alleged misdeeds. Later, we found ourselves herded into a gloomy chamber, ravaged corpses littering the floor and bloody limbs hanging from the ceiling as a sadistic woman explained her trade — the art of torture – with an unfortunate member of our group acting as her prop. The most interesting, and very Gothic, scene was the silhouette play showing the end of Sawney Bean’s cannibalistic family – the illusion of the magic lantern show at its Gothic best. The horrors of the dungeon were all staged for the mingled pleasure and fear of the crowd.  Certainly, The Edinburgh Dungeons succeeds in keeping the spirit of the Gothic alive and well in both its atmosphere and appearance, with mysterious lighting and a multitude of eerie sound effects.  An important site in Edinburgh’s already rich array of Gothic destinations, The Dungeons are not to be missed.  Particularly Gothic moments and features include rooms fashioned after graveyards to taunt the audience with the threat of body snatchers sneaking in to murder them and sell their bodies; actors jumping out of hidden doors; a boat ride through a dark cave for something to graze your face only to disappear before you have released a proper scream; and ghostly projections of the dead who have sworn vengeance against the city of Edinburgh.

A  lot more than mere Gothic sensationalism is at stake, though: the Dungeons are also a fun way of learning about the city’s bloody history, along with some of Scotland’s darker legends.   Invariably, this history is clothed in Gothic garb:  a corpse displayed on the table of some immoral doctor – the spoils of Burke and Hare’s antics, torn limbs piled on the floor, blood-stained walls, and a street deserted from the effects of the Black Death. The Dungeons are a mixture of screams and laughs, and actively exploit the assumption that 21st-century visitors thrive on the weird thrills of horror and terror.   Audience-participation is the order of the day, as actors pick a member from the crowd and call them to the front of a darkened room, using them as an example as they talk about some gory practice from Edinburgh’s past, the subject laughing and trembling all the while.   The Edinburgh Dungeons is an entertaining, heady mixture of absurdity, fun and fear, using moving silhouettes, phantasmagorical projections, creepy sound effects, and darkened halls to entertain its guests (or should that be inmates). Some might think it is rather over-the- top, or even just that little bit too terrifying, but we certainly are of the opinion that anyone visiting it is bound for both a fun-filled, educational experience.

The website for the Edinburgh Dungeon can be found here.  To win a family ticket to the Dungeon, email the answer of this simple question to dt8@stir.ac.uk by 31 December 2011:  What cave were Sawney Bean and his legendary cannibalistic family supposed to have lived in?  (Competition open to UK readers only).

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