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Millennium Dome review
We went with Nathan (aged two and a half) to the Millennium Dome on Monday 10th January 2000. This is my account and reflections of our day.
I should declare up front being a Dome enthusiast, so this was always going to be favourable before we even went. There are several things that make the Dome an attractive idea to me, but the main ones are to do with the fact that most satirist seem to dislike the whole idea, and the whole of the UK media seem to see the project as somewhat silly and a waste of money.
I have no time for the objection that the money spent on the Dome could have been put to building hospitals or something else more useful. If I seriously thought that we would have built some more hospitals if we hadn't built the Dome, or that we have any good reasons for not building hospitals even though we have built the Dome, then I'd be happy to campaign against it. But we could afford more hospitals, whether or not we have the Dome, and we aren't building them, so there's no real cost to the Dome as far as I can see. No, it's a majestic folly at worst, and a cultural extravaganza at best, and both of those are good things in my book.
Enough ranting, what did I make of it? It was brilliant. There, told you this would be favourable.
From outside it looks big and impressive as it should. First impressions inside were that, at eleven days old, it looks a little tatty. There's a lot of brightly painted concrete, so it looks a little like someone from "Changing Rooms" gave it a quick makeover. It doesn't seem lush and extravagant like somewhere that cost a lot of money to build. Actually, inside all of the zones the decor and presentation is all rather impressive, it's the bulk of the space around and between them that looks ropey. Whether this is set to improve, or will worsen as the year passes might be interesting to see.
We got there by train and tube from Nottingham, arriving in the Dome a little after 11am, with enough time for the recommended "five hour day" visit before we had to head back. It was nowhere near long enough for us, and we will have to go back to see some more of the zones on another day. We could have stayed even longer in almost all of the zones we went in, so goodness knows how you'd get round in five hours. It's not as though we spent much time in queues. The famous queues were not evident on our cold Monday. We queued only for the body zone, about fifteen minutes, though we noticed that after noon there was no queue at all even for that. We could have walked straight in.
By far the best thing was the show in the main arena. We had been allocated (apparently randomly) a ticket to the later presentation of that as we checked in. When we pointed out to the entrance attendant that we wouldn't be able to make that one in time to get back he told us he had no other times available, but if we asked at a service point inside we might be able to swap. This we did, and swapping was no problem.
The show was terrifically spectacular. Difficult to categorize, a kind of dance, theatre, and music combination, which told a story that you had to have pre-read on a large screen before it started. I'd browsed it only, but that didn't seem to matter. I don't want to give spoilers, but you just have to see this. Probably alone worth the entrance fee for me, it brought lumps to my throat and spine tingles as all kinds of amazing things happened in a fully three dimensional, massive scale show. My tip is to get in early, because the setting up and arrival of the cast is really part of the show. The seats are a long way back from the stage, and we could have sat on the floor much nearer, but from there I suspect you'd miss a lot of the overhead stuff and the full view of everything that was happening on the stage. It was often very energetic, and the music and dance very uplifting. The lighting and mechanical stage effects were stunning. If you go, you have to see the show.
We could have squeezed in a visit to the other scheduled event, which is the screening of a special Blackadder episode. We decided to give that a miss, partly because it would have cut it fine to get away for our tube home, and partly because you had to go out of the Dome to another building, and partly because we've seen state of the art cinema elsewhere already. And the other things were more appealing given our limited time. We do expect to go back again though, and we hope to catch it then.
We went into "Timekeepers of the Millennium", which is an incomprehensible name for a rather fun tower which has various levels and various means of propelling soft foam balls around. The main of these ways was a series of guns into which you could load the balls and shoot at people. Unless you were in a large party that split up, you had to shoot at strangers, which made this probably the only truly interactive (ie with other people) thing in the Dome. Otherwise you can interact with machines and electronics, but it's not a hugely social place. Apart from the guns, there were big suction hoses and other air driven mechanisms to keep the balls moving to the different levels. Serious shooters could pick up a collection bag and tack a load of ammo to a gun with them.
The body zone was where we queued, but even there the queue was winding through a fairly thought provoking set of displays to read, so it was OK. It was loud in there, like it might be in a body, and there were several "rooms" which were inside various body parts. It was mildly gory (very mildly), and seemed designed to make you think looking after your body and keeping it clean and using cosmetics was a good idea. Well, sponsored by Boots, I guess it would do that. I'd have liked a bit more info here, but it was all very well done nonetheless.
The rest zone was perhaps the most odd. It is a couple of largish, sweeping curved spaces, very organic and a little Roger Dean-ish. There is atmospheric sound, almost musical chimes mostly, and light which changes colour. The idea is that you find space on the undulating concrete floor and relax. Many people seemed, to me, to be a little over-reverent here. Actually there was a lot of subdued giggling, as many people got into ill-practised, uncomfortable lotus positions and looked as though they were trying hard to relax. I don't think many people could have managed to really relax, the coloured light was too bright and changed too quickly, the music too intrusive, and there was too much coming and going. I felt like subverting the place and doing something noisy, but Nathan beat me to it by discovering that he could repeatedly climb up the concrete slope and slide down it. He told us, and everyone else around us, all about this as he did it.
The journey zone was very good. There was a message here, about the slow and gradual trend by humans to get around faster and further, which was delivered very well through all sorts of displays and artifacts. We liked this one a lot.
The play zone was very understated (ie we didn't know what to expect) given that it contained some of the most elaborate electronics and state of the art stuff that we found. There were lots of things to do here, most of them were projected on large images around the walls, so you could watch other people doing things when you weren't doing something yourself. We had a lot of fun on a sofa where we could see ourselves on screen being hit by some children with cushions, apparently also on our sofa but not really there. We dodged around pretending to avoid the imaginary blows that we could see on the screen. Later on, around a corner, we found the counterpart sofa with cushions, and people there doing the cushion bashing on a similar screen showing the same composite image. Nearby were the three children who had been "hitting" us, a little surprised to see that we were flesh and blood since, like us, they thought maybe the other folks they had been hitting were from a recorded image. There were games here. There was a kaleidoscope which made its pictures from parts of your body as you walked underneath it. All sorts to do, could have spent ages in here. The grand piano played by light pulses generated by a cursor from a stylus on a small desk was wonderful.
Apart from the shop, and a couple of refreshment stops, that's all we had time for. Bought a few souvenirs. Prices in the shop and at the various fast food and snack places dotted around were standard. There were apparently more places to eat in the same building the cinema is in, but we didn't get out there, so can't comment.
It's an expensive day out, especially with train fares on top of the entrance fee. We're in the lucky position of being able to afford it. It's a pity that it's out of the question for a lot of people to make the journey and pay the costs. Compared to other entertainments available for that kind of price, it's well worth it for me. I'm paying more to see "Yes" for two hours in February. If I equate the entrance fee to a couple of nights out eating or drinking, or a couple of football matches, then it seems pretty reasonable. I wouldn't like to have to travel much further and try to do it as a day trip, so I'm glad I didn't have to go from further north.
We weren't cold, despite being in a large tent on a cold January day. We were comfortable in sweatshirts, carrying our coats. Facilities, ie toilets etc, were very good and plentiful, though clearly the place was underpopulated on our chosen day.
The commercial sponsorship is apparent, though variable. It is mildly visible, though more subtly evident in the content of the zones.
I certainly want to go again and see some of the things I didn't have time for. All the zones, without exception, looked worthy of a visit, so there is at least another day's worth still to do. It will be tempting to counter the spirit of the thing and go by car to somewhere near, just really to give us the chance of a longer day without having to pay for a nearby overnight stop.
Should you go? Well, I don't know, it's a limited opportunity, and you'll get to the end of your life and you'll have either gone or not gone. I guess you have to approach it with enthusiasm, and not be looking for anything life changing or tangible, otherwise it will be a bit of a waste of time and money. It's definitely an exhibition, not a theme park. It's entertaining, but there are no physical thrills. It's totally brilliant, and the arena show has qualities that I expect I'll never see anywhere again, even in a large capital city theatre, in terms of scale and spectacle. You decide.