Following Zoe’s visit to Shrewsbury Prison’s Halloween event, I was hugely excited to attend their Christmas offering this year. Having never visited the prison before, I was looking forward to soaking up the ominous atmosphere of the venue while experiencing some great scare attractions. And festive frights are always a delight. And so, on the morrow of the winter solstice, we embarked on our journey to Shrewsbury.
Along the way, the view from the road was littered with Christmas lights, and upon arrival at the prison, Christmas tunes could be heard floating across the courtyard. The combination of the prison setting, the Christmas milieu en route, the music, and the promise of impending terror made for an extremely surreal build-up. We made our way into the building to experience the first of three scare mazes.
As we approached the start of this maze, I bought in almost immediately; even the stairwell was themed, bolstered by cold corridors and echoing screams. A deftly staged actor-led intro featured further theming and an alarming jump scare involving one of the patients. However, the actor playing the doctor surprised me. I was expecting a sinister, Kelman-esque authority figure – instead, we were met with someone I could barely hear over the audio, whose nervous disposition may or may not have been part of the characterisation. Zoe informed me that this actor had returned from the Halloween season, and that during her visit, an incident at the same point created similar ambiguity around this character, which distracted her. Sadly, I was distracted too.
However, once this experience got going, the jump scares were enough to jolt me out of my distraction and into next week. An unassuming follow-the-rope format soon revealed a sting in its tail: scareactors lurking in total darkness, lit sporadically amidst shrieks and screams. They grabbed at us as we blindly shuffled along. At one point we were separated, and when the missing group member did not answer my cries, I briefly considered the prospect of a daring rescue mission. An enormously enjoyable experience, and wholly unexpected from a follow-the-rope scenario.
House no. 7
As I strode confidently into the first scene of this exceptionally presented experience, the icy stare emanating from the first character stopped me in my tracks. Experimental, as exciting as it was, did little to showcase the incredible acting talent within this scream park. House, on the other hand, staged it front and centre.
This character-led, narrative driven walkthrough was astonishingly good. The acting was some of the best I’ve ever seen in a scare attraction – especially the grandson, who played out his scene with captivating elan. As far as I’m concerned, House no. 7 has cracked the code; each setpiece featured a high level of detail and carefully crafted theming, without the glossy, polished veneer that can result in some attractions losing their edge. This helped create a sense of danger as we approached the final scene, aided by the actors’ unpredictable outbursts as they hurled objects around with little regard to their direction.
The only downside of this experience was a joke aimed towards someone in our group, which sparked a conversation on our way home around whether jokes pertaining to someone’s physical appearance are acceptable. We’d love to know your thoughts in the comments.
Essentially an attraction of two halves; this experience featured another engaging, actor-led intro, with plenty of humour which would serve to offset the impending finale. Humour is a hugely important aspect of scare entertainment as it can help create a false sense of security, which worked perfectly in Meat Market. The welcoming nature of the first actor soon gave way to an intense barrage of impact scares. We found ourselves darting around a strobe-lit cage like headless chickens, relentlessly pursued by a terrifying scareactor who seemed to have us exactly where they wanted us at any given moment. The mask worn by the scareactor was alarming, and my compulsion to run from it was genuine. There’s nothing better than stumbling out of a scare maze in a mass of shrieks and giggles, and that’s precisely how we exited Meat Market – a perfect end to the night. Some audio in this attraction would have carried it even further, creating a full sensory assault.
Before we left Shrewsbury prison, we were treated to a face-to-face meeting with the big man himself – Santa Claus! Clutching his liquor bottle and verbally abusing his elf, this Father Christmas wasn’t quite the jolly character you’d expect; his lewd, drunken badinage had us in stitches. Another example of the high standard of acting at Shrewsbury, and another memorable moment amongst so many that evening.
In an era where scream parks are seemingly devolving into the schlocky cousin of immersive theatre, Shrewsbury Scream Park has turned over a winning hand with their combination of intense actor-led setpieces and gritty jump scares. I can’t wait to visit during the Halloween season to experience more of what they have to offer.