|by GettysGirl4260/CC BY-SA 2.0|
The setting of the Hidden House is unpromising: Westfield Shopping Centre, Stratford, London at its festive, frenzied worst. Surely this was just another tacky, dissatisfying, cash-in-on-Christmas attraction. But the description of it lured me in. It sounded different, clever and actually, sort of classy.
My daughter, 8, was just old enough for it, but seeing as last weekend she’d freaked out at the chase scene in Paddington the movie, I didn’t think she’d cope with this. My 15-year-old, however, was the perfect victim.
As we approached the large Scandinavian-style cabin, the first thing that struck us were the screams from inside. Not silly, giggly, schoolgirl screams. Real, proper, get-me-the-hell-out-of-here screams bouncing off the shop windows of Primark and Costa Coffee.
Then we saw the faces of people coming out of the house, laughing, but not laughing, if you know what I mean. I was scared already.
The ‘story’ you enter into at the Hidden House – as explained at the start of your journey – is that you are going into the thick of the forest to look for for Little Red Riding Hood who has gone missing. At the same time, they strongly warn you to keep an eye out for “Him” who is in there too. Somewhere. But don’t be fooled for a second by the fairytale theme.
We entered in a comfortingly-large group of nine people, but were quickly ordered to choose from one of three doors: Door A led to Sorrow, B led to Darkness and C … I have no idea because all I remember after that was the two of us were suddenly alone, wandering freely through a maze of dark to pitch-black rooms and corridors with yet more choices of doors.
Only we didn’t wander freely. We shuffled rigidly, inched along walls, cowered in corners, afraid to go forwards, backwards, or even stand still.
Because round every twist and turn was a sallow-skinned, wild-eyed, matted-haired lunatic (or incredibly convincing actor), lurking, pouncing, hiding, writhing, staring, rocking, hissing. They screeched in our faces, whispered in our ears, and commanded us to do things we really didn’t want to do. At one point we were ordered to crawl on our hands and knees. We obeyed without question.
Each room and character developed the story line a little further – if we'd been able to keep a cool enough head to follow it.
So did we find Little Red Riding Hood? Oh yes. We met her up close and personal, and she certainly wasn’t the apple-pie-baking, pretty-flower-picking girl we knew from books. When we finally tumbled out of the house, Shopping Hell actually looked quite appealing.
A bunch of jabbering school age kids rushed up to us immediately: “What happens in there? What happens in there?” they pleaded with us to tell them. “I can’t tell you that,” I panted. “Just-don't-go-in-there.”
I cannot begin to imagine how scary the more extreme, post 5 o’ clock version of the experience must be. And we have no intention of finding out.
Once we’d found our legs again, we pottered over to have a look at the Olympic Stadium next door. As we peered through the window of the Aquatics Centre, I asked my son if he’d have the courage to jump off the top diving board. “No way!” he said. “Alright then, what would you rather do?” I asked: “Jump off that diving board or go into the Hidden House again?” He answered in a nanosecond: “Jump off the board.”
The Hidden House is open until 4th January and will be back again from mid-November 2015. Visit the website here.