Beasts of London is the latest blockbuster exhibition by the Museum of London, using dramatic audio-visual immersive presentations to narrate the story of animals in the capital from prehistory to the present day.
In partnership with the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the ‘animals’ themselves tell the stories. The casting is perfect, with the voice actors well suited to their animal ‘character’. The plague-causing bacterium is voiced by Brian Blessed, set as the pantomine-esque villain of the story to engage children and the contemporary urban fox is voiced by Kate Moss upon the exit of the exhibition.
While it might have been curated with young audiences in mind, and it speaks to this audience exceptionally well, there is certainly enough for adults to take from the exhibition. Like any good children’s cartoon, hidden between the lines is humour and dialogue intended for adult entertainment. A baboon interrupted mid-swearing, a debate surrounding the ethics of using animals for human gain, and the references to wider London culture make Beasts of London engaging for any age.
For Beasts of London’s young audiences, there is ample interactive engagement. Each room has a space for tactile element, most impressive being the carousel horses to sit on while listening to the history of the royal, military, and racing horses of London. The spaces are completely immersive, with each room an entirely different space, from a circus to an apothecary.
Although the exhibition predominantly uses digital audio-visual technology to shape the narrative, each room is inspired by an object from Museum of London’s collection. Next to each space is an object such as a jar for holding plague remedies from 1670, or a fragment of a 2,000 year old Samian bowl, which adds a layer of context for Beasts of London – without this it could stand alone as an entirely experiential installation, rather than the historical exhibition it perhaps is. (However Senior Curator Francis Marshall describes Beasts of London as an experience rather than an exhibition).
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Beasts of London as much as I did, as perhaps it’s not for me. But, Museum of London and Guildhall School of Music and Drama have created an exciting, immersive and fun new way to tell the story of London, through the eyes of the animals we’ve shared it with.