About Heather and I visited Lightopia at Crystal Palace Park. It wasn’t the greatest event, though okay, a little overpriced, but fine. I had no real desire to return for this year’s edition until there was a small WAY event set up for a visit. So it was we returned. It hadn’t really improved.
The trail started much as last year, a sparse funfair to appease younger visitors, a few little pieces (a magic rabbit, a jesters hat, something that was probably meant to be flowers but may have been lampshades). Getting clear of the fair a collection of frankly dull blocks recalled the illuminated palace highlight of last year. All the innovation of that display was lost in something almost missable, which was a shame. It was the sort of thing they should have run with, rather than deconstructed.
That led onto the trail’s first real set piece, which randomly involved Clangers. That was at least interesting for those of us of a certain age, though even with recent revivals it seemed probable that a lot of younger visitors wouldn’t recognise the characters. At least the display was vaguely Christmassy, a giant walk through bauble being surmounted by a rocket propelled clanger. If that was the Instagram moment the organisers were hoping for though, it was both weirdly early and a bit of a let down.
Another large display followed, roughly comparable to last year’s phoenix. This time it was a big dragon neck and head, turning side to side in the night. It was there one problem with this sort of thing became apparent. There is a certain style to this type of art, sort of paper panel and wire (at least in look), with internal illumination. That’s fine if you like it, but if it’s not your thing (and it’s not mine) it makes things a little annoying. It also makes things quite repetitive whatever your views of the style—something different then and again would be nice.
Around that point things really did begin to become a bit random. I’m still not sure what the bees (or were they ants) were about and then (after a walk of hearts rather than last year’s flowers) there were what might be thought of as mythical creatures—certainly strange amalgams of recognisable animals with additions like wings (a rabbit) or multiple tails (a fox). That’s not mentioning the scary eyes of the unicorn.
None of that had anything to do with the glorious Christmas extravaganza that the event bills itself as. Nor did the next display which seemed to be much closer to Halloween themed—well there were some smiley pumpkins (I think), and a witch’s cottage. That seemed a truly bizarre choice given the whole thing didn’t open until well after the end of October.
We did finally Christmas, in the form of another giant bauble and some candy canes next to a bulbous “tree”. There was still a witch on a broomstick though, for no reason that could be determined. There was also the most horrifying looking snowman, who literally had a black heart and looked like it may be coming for you in Christmas nightmares.
The randomness only increased from there on—there was absolutely no narrative link between any part of the trail and the next. A girl with a pile of books; the woman on the Moon reading; a quite boring walk through illuminated trees. There really didn’t seem any point to it all, other than this is what they had (given the multi-location nature around the country, I wonder if they just moved some things around from last year?)
A diversion that seemed to be designed to take one past the cafe led up to the final large piece. Light playing on a mist of water (viewed from a disturbingly wobbly pontoon) displayed Santa, and angels, and the Christmas phoenix (one must assume it was). It was admittedly an impressive effect, but I was by now a little past caring that much.
The trail continued a bit further, with, if possible, even less coherence. We were by now joking among ourselves that these were whatever they had left over and had just shoved at the end. In fact, they didn’t have quite enough, the trail actually petering out of entertainment before its end, leaving us to find the exit in pretty much darkness.
Don’t think it will convince me next year. At least the pub was warm and cosy afterwards.