Theme Park Insanity

York Dungeon - A live actor lead historical horror themed attraction based in York, North Yorkshire, UK!

If you’re brave enough to step over the threshold of this dark and terrifically creepy attraction you may just find something macabre, addictive and twisted in it’s hilarity which will be guaranteed to keep you coming back more!

York Dungeon is just one location in the wider Dungeons franchise owned and operated by Merlin Entertainments (also known for the Sealife Centres, Madame Tussauds and the 4 main major UK theme parks including Alton Towers and Thorpe Park to name but 2!), however in our opinion having done most of the others located here in the UK it is by far the best! The reason for this is the truly unique experience this particular site offers! This is due to the fact the building within which the attraction is located and the fact that unlike most of the other dungeons, if not them all York Dungeon doesn’t actually house any rides at all. This from our experience puts a much heavier emphasis on the actors leading them to create and deliver some of the most memorable performances you are ever likely to find at any UK Dungeon! Mixing satirical humour with the horror real life history has created over the centuries York really does house an absolute treasure trove of experiences when it comes to bringing the past to life and as such some of the shows located here are not only very dark, but are also mildly terrifying if you are not used to a horror based attraction!

Focusing on over 2000 years of blood soaked history York Dungeon delivers some truly memorable shows and experiences range from being locked in a room with a convicted witch during her final hours before her execution (which has to be one of the most intense shows on site) to being subject to a medieval torturer, being taken on a moon lit stage coach ride during a pursuit with the infamous Dick Turpin – a convicted highway man and being at the mercy of the Vikings as they invade York! Overall, York Dungeon really does have it all, however what will really leave you gasping for more is the sheer attention to detail and the overall flow of your experience!

York Dungeon takes you from start to finish with what feels like no effort what so ever and delivers memorable moments in every show you pass through mixing the arts of special effects, set design and superb acting to deliver some very unique and colourful experiences! Now, out of 11 LIVE shows onsite the one that stands out the most for us has to be Curse of the Witch which has been based around the local legend of Isabella Billington of Pocklington! Accused of witchcraft she sits locked in her cell awaiting her execution in York Castle Prison, however as she keeps pleading ‘I’m not guilty’ things really start to go from bad to worse! This is the one show which will really leave the biggest lasting impression on you out of them all, and if the fact you will likely wet yourself doesn’t do the trick then the lighting effects and theatrics used in the show will certainly do the trick! Curse of the Witch has to be one of the best scripted and most original shows based at the York Dungeon and the delivery always leaves us breathless no matter how many times we experience it! We were recently privileged to be able to sit down and discuss this show in depth with the manager of operations for York Dungeon Dan who advised us that in reality the show itself was a very simple one to deliver, however it was lasting affect it would leave on it’s victims that would really seal the deal! Most of the effects methods used in Curse of the Witch draw inspiration from those applied in Victorian stage theatre, however in reality not only does this make it incredibly easy for the actress to carry out their performance, but it also ensures there are minimal technical difficulties as well! Other shows we favour the most are The Golden Fleece, Execution and Dick Turpin as these all deliver very fun and unique performances right from word go!

"A Terrifically Dark Attraction"

Now as previously mentioned this location has a total of 11 shows and also features a Dungeon ‘Tavern’ at the end of your experience (A newly envisioned concept added to most Dungeon locations in the last 5 – 7 years, the first of which was The  London Dungeon), however as also previously mentioned this site also includes no rides within the experience such as ‘Drop Dead’ at Blackpool or the ‘Black River’ boat ride at Alton Towers Dungeon! This means that when designing the shows and sets creators had to literally think outside the box about how they were going to ensure guests stay entertained from start to finish! This therefore means that some of the shows use extra methods to deliver the scares in place of the rides to create an experience which is still just as fun and thrilling as any of the company’s other sites! That being said the fact there aren’t any rides on site doesn’t make this attraction any less entertaining or thrilling overall!

To shed some further light on what we mean by extra features we have to discuss our experience in much deeper detail, therefore if you don’t wish to spoil the York Dungeon for yourself we suggest you stop reading here and pick back up where it says ‘pick back up here’ below, however if you have a greedy curiosity and want to truly seal your fate before you have even stepped inside then keep on reading!!

*** SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN! ***

Still here? Good, shall we begin then peasant?

To start your experience you will enter the dimly lit holding area! As shows usually run every 15 minutes you will more than likely have to wait which means you will continue to hear the usual warnings e.g. “No talky boxes, no flashy watches and no cameraaas!!”! After a short wait however your experience will begin and the lights will drop! When they come back up you will be greeted by your first character ‘Father Augustus’! He will lead you into the bowels of York Minster where your strength to lead your fellow Saxon peasants will be ‘tested’ (although this employs one of the oldest tricks in the book and will have those who don’t realise laughing at you in hysterics)! After this brief show you will lead into wrath of the Vikings!

It is worth mentioning here that should you have any ailment of any kind you should definitely speak up at this point as the next  show does contain a dropping floor! This show centres around the Viking Invasion of York and features a well written witty script whereby you have been captured as viking slaves and ‘Hilda’, a female who will have been singled out in the previous show and given a note will be held in a ‘barrel of snakes’! The show culminates in the Saxon King being captured, Blood Eagled (a viking execution method) and the rest of you being condemned to be executed in a pit of snakes! Here then is the first instance where the use of added and slightly more thrilling effects comes into play. The floor on which you are stood drops around a foot or so and does this numerous times prior to finishing giving for a good jump scare to those who aren’t suspecting it!

You then proceed into the Plague doctor which is one of three staple shows included in all Dungeon locations! This centres around the black plague and features the plague doctor’s apprentice who will talk you through the effects the plague will have on it’s victims! This also includes the use of a latex mannequin with fake organs. The plague doctor’s apprentice will pick a ‘victim’ near the beginning and will focus on them throughout the show continuously picking on them at certain points for added effect and humour! The show will culminate in the ‘victim’ being ‘put out of their misery’ and this is achieved through the use of shadow theatre, a water spray effect and a few well timed changes of position by the actor (or actress)! Overall this show is a great addition to the line up and will guarantee a laugh every time! There is also of course the added use of ball bearings under the bench surfaces to give the illusion that ‘leeches’ have escaped and are slithering under your seat. A very clever effect which will also give you a laugh at the expense of those who are unaware of what’s coming!

The fourth show in the line up is the classic haunting show and centres around the Golden Fleece pub (reputedly the most haunted pub in the city of York!). This show uses a mixture of visual effects, plate glass projection, an air cannon and lighting effects to deliver an experience which you will not soon forget! You are greeted by the landlord (or landlady) on a stormy night and told to ‘take refuge’ from the storm. Once inside they proceed to tell you the “tale which must be told” – the tale of William Curry and William Brown (A drunken hangman and a vengeful criminal)! Through the use of some very well scripted position changes, delivery of a great script and the aforementioned you can guarantee this show will leave a last impression on you to say the least!

You then leave ‘the pub’ and make your way to Margaret Clitherow! This show is the precursor to the infamous mirror maze (which if you request to you can skip) and centres around the local legend surrounding Margaret Clitherow, a woman sentenced to death for hiding practising Catholics back in the late 1500’s! After you’re caught by the authorities you will enter the mirror maze to ‘escape’! The maze uses lighting effects, smoke and intense audio as well as mirrors with TVs behind them to deliver a very claustrophobic experience making you feel lost and helpless as you’re ‘lost’ in the ‘priest holes’ whilst trying to escape to freedom! We have to say that even though we are not a fan of mirror mazes this show is still very fun and will leave you feeling extremely disorientated!

Dare you enter Traitor?!

After you escape you will make your way down to meet Guy Fawkes! This is a projection mapped show and includes the use of two projection mapped heads on pikes – one being Guy Fawkes and the other being John Wright, a co conspirator! The two will tell you all about the events which lead to their capture  and how the gun powder plot unravelled before it could be completed. Guy Fawkes is witty, doesn’t take itself too seriously and lasts for between 3 to 4 minutes in total, after which you will visit ‘the Torturer’!

Roll on what is most likely one of the most well loved and well known shows in the Dungeons franchise! The torturer will greet you before locking one of you in a cage and picking his (or her) victim! Be warned, if you are singled out here then just do as you’re told haha! The torturer will then proceed to show you a selection of medieval torture devices and explain what they do including the tongue tearer and the best of the bunch – the ‘Chappy Chopper’! This show will include the victim being picked on and humiliated repeatedly, however it’s all in good fun! the Torturer is another  fantastic addition to the brand and is the second staple show of 3 in the dungeon’s brand!

Your next port of call  is the courtroom – a 15th century courtroom ruled by a tyrant judge named Lord Chief Justice Venerable Vernon Pollard IV! The Judge is the final staple show of the 3 in the brand and will see you convicted of witchcraft, theft and all manner of interesting crimes! 3 ‘criminals’ will be picked on and sentenced in accordance with 15th century punishments which means this show will surely guarantee to again give you all a good laugh! The Judge is a great and very light hearted addition to proceedings and will ensure things aren’t kept too serious!

Next up it’s time to face the executioner (well, his apprentice anyway)! This again is a very unique and fun show and is unique to York! The Executioner centres around medieval execution at it’s very best and will see you arriving at Mickelgate Bar where you will see the heads of traitors to the King mounted on spikes! The executioner’s apprentice however is all too willing to show off his (or her) new instruments of death and this will results in yet again another willing participant being chosen. After things proceed and the ‘victim’ supposedly attempts to decapitate the apprentice (a mechanical prop dropping the blade on the Halifax Gibbet about an inch) it’s time for heads to roll as the participant is branded a ‘Traitor’! At this point through clever use of misdirection, lighting changes and a water spray effect you are lead to believe they have been executed (which of course they haven’t really as that would present a real health and safety nightmare to say the very least!). The Executioner is witty, well scripted and hilarious and again doesn’t take itself too seriously making it the perfect addition to York Dungeon! 

You then proceed into Curse of the Witch! This as mentioned previously is by far the best show on site and centres around a convicted witch – Isabella Billington who maintains her innocence throughout, however as things progress her tone turns ever more dark and things soon quickly spiral out of control! This will see prop drops, lighting changes including strobe effects (please make yourself known prior to the start of the show if you suffer with photo sensitive epilepsy) and quick fast paced misdirection causing you to really feel as if you truly are at the mercy of a convicted devil worshipper! Curse of the Witch will definitely frighten the younger ones so this is well worth noting before you enter. The acting quality in this show alone makes the York Dungeon worth the visit, however with the addition of the final show you really can’t complain at the price of admission.

The final show sees you ‘on your way back to the dungeon’ in a luxurious stage coach. But don’t relax just yet, this is no ordinary stage coach! It’s the main focus of the notorious highwayman Dick Turpin! This show employs the use of dropping seats (mention to the actor if you have a bad back etc.) and uses a mixture of low lighting, audio and light changes to give the illusion that you’re under attack from Dick himself. The overall experience is fast paced, well timed and serves as a fitting conclusion to your experience overall. The coach is also made to feel as if it is moving throughout the experience by employing the use of gently rocking walls to give the illusion of movement. Overall this fantastic finale really makes the 75 minute experience all the more worth doing and as such last year alone we visited the York Dungeon a drawn total of 12 times!!

This therefore concludes your experience and you are lead out into the photo point and then finally into the bar and gift shop!

Guilty, drunk and feeling bewitched!

*** PICK BACK UP HERE! ***

Overall we can’t recommend trying this attraction for yourselves enough! The acting quality is superb, the staff are truly amazing and the attraction offers the perfect mixture of set design, special effects and acting to deliver an experience you will not soon forget in a hurry no matter how hard you try!

Finally with regards to age suitability this attraction would definitely be recommended for those of 8 years old or above (maybe even 10 to be perfectly honest due to the content within) as this is definitely one experience that will be sure to give those of a nervous disposition or of the younger generation in general nightmares for the foreseeable future!

However if you don’t fall into this category then only one question remains! – What’ll it be Traitor? Do you dare enter York Dungeon for yourself?!!

Categories: Review

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