Dome Crazy

I can’t work out whether I’m pleased to have gone to the Dome’s part of the Greenwich and Docklands Festival yesterday or not. On the one hand there was much more open – but on the other it got seriously scary at points.

It’s at times like this that what I gather was a day’s training for security might not prove to have been enough – though I guess there’s nothing like learning on the job…

Basically there were just too many people inside the Dome for safety – probably more that had visited the place in an entire year in 2000. ;-) Vast numbers of people milled round (largely) enjoying the place – and the fabulous acts put on for our delight and delectation. I’m not usually much of a street entertainment fan but the velociraptors and their crazy keeper were just wonderful, and I adored the giant fighting insects operated by hippies on diggers. In fact the bits in the main entrance area were all great – and the bits elsewhere would have been, save for where they were placed. But more on that later…

There was no way we were going to queue for any of the restaurants – though it was in some cases difficult to work out where the queue ended and the melee began – they don’t look anything more exciting than most high streets. I daresay I’ll test them all out at some point but frankly yesterday was not the time. There were many more open than on Wednesday, but I noticed that further round “Entertainment Avenue” there still seem to be a lot of unsold units so I suspect their policy of “no fast food joints” (save the ones they operate themselves, mind) may not hold out for much longer.

What I was most interested to see was the new cinema, with its largest screen in Europe. They were doing guided tours of the balcony of it (which basically involved someone letting you in, then herding you out.) On the way we checked out the other screens – they all appeared to be universally titchy. A neat marketing idea, though, I thought, selling tickets not at a booth, but at any concession stand…

Screen 11 is impressive – there’s no doubting that. Its gigantic, curved mass will make the larger blockbusters look great. But I have serious reservations about this place. Obviously we weren’t allowed in the stalls, and we only had a limited amount of time in the balcony, but it was enough for me to discover that the seats, though each coming with their own little table, do not recline, like in the Picturehouse (not terrible, I guess – they look reasonably comfy otherwise.)

But this place’s biggest problem is the sightlines. If you are anything below average height (and especially if you’re a child) DO NOT sit in the front row. The edge of the balcony will cut off the bottom of the screen. And this:

is the view from the end seat, front row of the side-wings of the balcony – the black bit in the background being the centre of the screen. The seats next to it have a slightly better view, as do the ones just behind it, but several sightlines are BADLY affected by the safety rails. The problem is reflected on the other side.

How did a NEW cinema manage to create such atrocious sightlines in their premium seats?

Be very, very careful when you book. Sadly I wasn’t allowed in there long enough to be able to work out the seat numbers of these really bad positions and there’s no seating plan on the net, but my advice is BEWARE. We weren’t allowed in the stalls, so I don’t know what the situation is there, but my confidence is already shaken.

It was further shaken when we tried to leave. In their infinite wisdom, the organisers had placed one of the fixed shows at the bottom of the escalators and a massive crowd had gathered. The poor Stepford Staff, nice though they were, were totally unable to cope as the numbers swelled way beyond safety levels. They panicked and started to block off areas to the point where there was gridlock. No one could move in any direction.

Now I don’t generally have any problems with crowds or claustrophobia, but this started to get a bit scary. It really began to be problematic when one total idiot decided that he wasn’t going to wait patiently to get out like everyone else, and started shouting and pushing. He was pushing and shouting so much and the crowd was so packed that the whole seething mass started to sway. People started to tell him off, and he just shouted back “I don’t care – shut up and get out of my way.”

At that moment, back on the stage, a splendidly camp dance group started shimmying around in lurex Madonna outfits and oiled, naked torsos on giant coloured swans to I Am What I Am, like some surreal soundtrack.

The atmosphere was suddenly extremely dangerous, and it occurred to me that at points like this you only need one total wanker for a riot to start. And that total wanker was behind me. There were small children in this crush and this git was throwing his weight around pretty much literally, crushing anyone who got in his way. It was getting pretty nasty and the staff just didn’t have the skills to deal with it.

I did what I could – every time he crashed into me I made sure I didn’t move my elbow for him. It didn’t do much to stop him (he was too fat and my elbow just sank in) but I like to think it slowed him down a bit. Any longer and I think someone would have got seriously hurt, but at this point the staff decided that trying to corral a mob needed more than one day’s training and just let go, the effect being something like peas being popped out of a pod.

I’d had enough. We battled our way out of the place, still feeling a little heady – the O2 could very easily have had a fatality and acquired itself some interesting “Curse of the Dome”-type headlines this morning. What the hell were they doing, putting a fixed show in the middle of a thoroughfare?

We got to the bus stop and it seems that the rest of the contents of the Dome and decided to do the same thing. There were about 200 people waiting at Bus Stop C – and not one single bus waiting to go. We waited ten minutes or so, but the people joining the crowd kept coming and the buses didn’t. I couldn’t face another melee (no one queues at North Greenwich, have you noticed?) and we went to the tube, travelled one stop to Canary Wharf, then got the DLR back to Greenwich. All in all an eye opener of an afternoon. Heaven knows what it would have been like if it hadn’t been raining…

It’s a shame, because the acts were great. I’ll leave you with a Velociraptor to show there’s no (well, not many) hard feelings…

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