Beasts Of London: Enchanting Talking Animals Re-Enact The Capital's History

Beasts of London, Museum of London ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 37 months ago

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Beasts Of London: Enchanting Talking Animals Re-Enact The Capital's History Beasts of London, Museum of London 4
Watch Tiny the Wonder Dog, rat killer extraordinaire. Image courtesy Museum of London

Brian Blessed's booming voice fills a room, recounting how he — as a bacterium — invaded London and wreaked havoc.

He's sharing the thoughts of the bacterium which caused the Plague that had a horrific effect on our capital in the 17th century.

It's part of Beasts of London, an enchanting Museum of London exhibition that children will love, offering an immersive trip through London's history narrated by the animals who lived here, voiced by celebrities.

An engraving of one of several menageries that existed in London. Image courtesy Museum of London

Pigeons, pugs and foxes are frequently spotted in London today, but the capital was once home to more exotic species. Woolly mammoths once walked these streets, as evidenced by a chunk of jawbone found in Brentford — there's something magical about imagining a mammoth sauntering along where the high street is today.

The preserved mammoth tooth is one of the few objects in this exhibition, which is more theatre than it is museum show. Battling Roman war horses clatter past us, and cheeky baboons throw faeces at passers by, make it somewhat tricky to focus on the objects on display.

All the set pieces are immersive. Image courtesy Museum of London

Elaborate set pieces that drop visitors right into the action are the highlight of the show. Cut-out Victorian men surround a baiting pit, leaning over the edge for a closer look. We join them and watch as Tiny the Wonder Dog steps into the ring. He's known for his ability to kill rats, and the projectors send dozens of the blighters crawling into the pit — you may find yourself stuffing your trousers into your socks to make sure no animated rodents climb up your legs.

The city becomes a circus. Image courtesy Museum of London

The exhibition has employed excellent voice actors, making the blood lust in Tiny's voice all the more powerful as he thinks about killing rats. Thankfully, there's no actual blood — this is a family exhibition, after all — but the show does an excellent job of highlighting the horrors of baiting, and how caged and circus animals were mistreated.

Humour is smartly used throughout the experience. Listen out for sparring between household pets — the pug references its owner, while the cat refuses to acknowledge its subservience and prefers to think of the owner as a flatmate — if cats could speak, it's exactly what they would say.

A stuffed peregrine that used to live in and around the dome of St. Paul's in the 19th century. Image courtesy Museum of London

Adults may learn a thing or two about London's history from this exhibition, but it's squarely aimed at children who will be enchanted by the elaborately-designed set pieces and talking animals.

Beasts of London is on at Museum of London from 5 April to 5 January 2020. Tickets are £10 for adults, £5 for children. The nature of the exhibition is that entry is limited to groups of 10 roughly every 10 minutes so it's best to book ahead for a particular time slot.

Last Updated 03 April 2019