Ghosts Of Past, Present And Future... The Truth about Kent's Worst Indoor Tourist Attraction
This is my first blog entry in many years.
It may read as a biased view but it will be the truth nonetheless.
Like the novels of Dickens there are many themes , Betrayal , Greed , Corruption...
Where do we start?
On a cold January morning in 2007 I waited outside a local pub to audition for what was billed as "Medway's Answer To Disney."
An interactive indoor tourist experience featuring rides, authentic costumed characters wandering around the twisting and crooked streets of London, with state of the art effects and smells. The works of Charles Dickens presented in a warehouse in Chatham Maritime costing £62 Million. It sounded awful, and that was what got my attention.
The name of the place had been called many things but it's official title Was Dickens World.
I envisioned myself waking around dressed as a policeman telling people to move along in a mock cockney accent.
The audition gained a lot of media coverage, it was televised on local news , the residents of the local Historic town hated the idea, so it had bad publicity early on.
After a session of role play scenarios, interviews and workshop exercises a team was selected and I found myself chosen with some serious actors and entertainers.
The Initial opening was delayed, so we found ourselves doing promotional visits to schools, local festivals and leaflet distribution . It was at this point we discovered that we was hated, The town of Rochester is very Dickens orientated, it is featured in several books and has its own yearly festival celebrating his life. So the idea of a fancy Micky Mouse type Theme Park (as it was incorrectly reported ) would mean huge competition. The argument being that It's location was a questionable place for the attraction as people never associated the Dockyard with Dickens life. ( however the location did in fact have ties to Dickens and his Family)
Several months later and some Thespians had already quit, The big opening preview night was upon us , a press launch with Media , and a gig featuring Cockney Duo Chas And Dave and UK Indie Band The Holloway's. None of the team had yet to see the actual attraction we had been plugging for weeks, not all of the effects had been delivered, the sets were not painted and we never had costumes.
It was then the money started to run out.
The team would have been made up of several departments composing of an Acting team, Retail, Bar staff and ride operations. In a bid to save money and keep everyone on the same wage ( actors would have been given a higher wage ) all job roles were merged.
Meaning those that went to University and had a degree were "performing" alongside supermarket night cleaners.
The main bar and restaurant company pulled out. The nationwide partner pulled out.
The actors who were giving the performance team Vocal and Acting workshops started to mention to the staff that it was in horrible hands and that disaster was written all over it.
The Britannia Theatre an animatronic show was not complete and for three months we were told to deny it ever existed when people asked about it.
The Indoor Dark Boat Ride (based on Great Expectations) which was rumoured to be Europe's largest indoor backwards dark boat ride was breaking, the technical/ride maintenance, Ride Photo company and Our 24 hour Security team then left due to lack of money. All staff costumes were self provided so Everyone wore Primark or charity shop waistcoats , there was no cockney accents, popular characters were told to be forgotten because it would upset Dickens fans if they were not as they imagined . So staff were told to make up characters that would have existed in the 1800's.
It was a confusing concept because the attraction would feature places that really existed in the 19th century ( Warrens Blacking Factory where Dickens worked as a child) and fictional places that were created for the novels ( DoTheBoys Hall).
Surprisingly it was popular for the first few months the queues were horrendous at first but it was exciting to see. There was an atmosphere, but it was only created because of the large numbers in the building. 1000 people in the building meant that there was no staff interacting with guests unless they were queuing for various individual attractions. Sound effects were then added, which staff had provided by recording at home.
Eventually courtyard activities were created to keep people entertained and then something that all the staff hated .
A pretentious acting company who had pre recorded 20minute abridged versions of famous works were enlisted to walk us through Mimed versions of A Christmas Carol ( mimed because the management team hadn't employed actors after the initial auditions and so they could be performed by anyone ) . The shows passed the time but were very degrading.
We did traditional Christmas with green Santa, had elves and before you know it , a year had passed.
Year two saw several filming opportunities as the attraction was purposely built like a film set and to be honest it looked fantastic. If there's anything to take from this it was the place really looked fantastic.
It was an odd place because there wasn't enough for all the family to do, it was not scary enough for teens , too scary for kids and not entertaining enough for adults. The real die hard Dickens fans left underwhelmed and the school groups only wanted to ride the boat over and over.
But the dark and gloomy interior was perfect for filming, and the management were kind enough to let the staff film for personal use after hours.
However that was the problem, Managers never cared enough and eventually numbers dwindled. I recall once our first guest didn't enter until 12 ( we opened at 945) and the total for the day was less than 30 people.
We would turn up , sit in our relevant areas and only perform the mimed shows when provided. We all were passionate about the place But because the management showed little interest in listening to our ideas , everyone gave up. It was a place to all meet up and get get paid.
When some of the more difficult management left some ideas were listened to.
I Myself got to create and perform a HALLOWEEN event, but I will detail that on another blog.
A rubbish few years followed, hours were cut, days of operation were changed to minimal , Christmas plans were an absolute joke. Poorly executed Football events, laughable club nights. Endless Theatre School Teachers trying to turn us into all singing all dancing West End performers.
The list goes on...
The boat was drained of water for "fixing" .... We closed for weeks on end for essential repairs but it turns out it was for Severe Financial reasons.
Eviction letters were posted on the entrance .
Two east end gangster types were then seen walking around , everyone was aware of them. They were nightclub promoters and we had always said that somebody will turn it into a night club eventually. It would seem as if our jokes would become reality.
One of the Gangster types turned out to be a buyer for the place, whom I had known previously as he ran his former business into the ground. He was eventually fired.
He was supposed to breathe fresh blood into the place but his ideas had flaws, he spoke business and sounded like he knew what he was saying, but he was holding back on details.
Make everyone redundant.
Close the attractions .
Turn it into a guided tour .
Let staff re-audition for the job they had.
Only advertise for Professional actors ( pay them £10 hr)
Pay the new staff a higher wage but Charge guests less money.
Nothing would add up, he envisioned 1000's through the door daily but we all knew that it would cost more to hire staff for the day and operation fees, and he'll make a small profit.
That's when everybody agreed to call it a day.
We did 6 years , it was horrible and fun , but it was time to hang up our top hats and corsets.
The new place currently uses the same name as the original attraction I was part of, however that company went bankrupt.
My image is still being used to promote the place on shoddy photoshop leaflets.
The rides have been either stripped apart or do not exist. The boat is gone , any staff member that works still there is only doing so because they do not have qualifications for anywhere else. Or are really insecure about moving on.
They fired their newly employed professionally trained actors and stopped paying them £10 hour, they now use volunteers from the local media college nearby to perform tours.
Recently a huge ministry of sound dub step club night was held there, tarnishing the name of the former company.
I don't work there now and all the people who have left have since gone on to better themselves, I invested a lot of time and really cared about the place and it was spat in my face. Not even the owner thanked us for our loyalty for 6 years and all the hard work and extra income we created for them.
It's a shame because there was a likeable charm with the place, it was somewhere that was somewhat fun because it was knowingly bad and everyone was in in the joke.
It's just sad to see the place declining now the clueless Dickensian Villains have control.
...from these garish lights I vanish now for evermore, with one heartfelt, grateful, respectful, and affectionate farewell.