19 January 2000 – The Brits spent 750 million pounds on the Millennium Dome, which has received horrendous press since the 31 December 1999 opening gala that kept Britain’s elite in queues for subway trains, tickets and entrances inside the Dome. The Times, England’s best-known newspaper, included daily editorials and articles criticizing expenditures and sloppy management. My favorite story – Prince Charles demanding his plane reroute to avoid looking at the edifice.
Wanting to make my own decision, I traveled to the Millennium Dome this morning via the Tube’s Jubilee Line, which houses a new station at the Dome (paid for by the taxpayers and built solely for arriving and departing Dome guests). Entrance fee was 20 pounds and a young, smiling woman at ticket sales admitted the credit card machines had not yet arrived so I would have to pay in cash.
Then my first view of the Dome: a space ship or large circus tent with elongated needles pointing up towards the sky! As another young, spunky employee Sue took my entrance ticket, I asked about attendance, “The press writes that attendance is lower than expected. How many are coming in during the week vs. the weekend?” Sue: “We can hold 25,000 people daily. On good weekday when lots of schools visit, we have 5 to 6,000 people inside. Weekends bring about 20,000 people. Queues are long then and people complain to me when they leave. I wish the complainers would come during the week.”
Inside the Millennium Dome are zones or stations with names like Talk, Mind, Body, Self-Portrait, Journey, Rest, Time and Money. The zones are sponsored by British companies like Marks & Spencer, British Telecom and Boots.
The Money zone, just at the entrance, was a disappointment offering few interactive opportunities and many of the ones available kept breaking. A smiling employee escorted me to three different ‘Spend a Million Pounds’ shopping games before we found one that worked properly. The game, built into a shopping cart, let me spend a million pounds in one minute, but my options appeared so slowly on the screen, I could pick only two choices in the minute. A potentially thrilling game, but ‘Spend a Million Pounds’ failed on execution.
The Body zone, complete with a huge heart beating intolerably loud, allowed me to walk through the inner workings of the body. The highlight of the Mind zone was changing my race and sex. I looked curiously the same as an Asian man and woman. The Rest zone is simple: an enormous, white room with slopes at the exterior walls and corners allowing me to relax on my back, look at the ceiling or just close my eyes. A kaleidoscope beamed muted, pastel colors along the ceiling, then on the wall, then the floor. Rest could offer complete escape from the loud outside world, but giggling, chatting teenage girls kept tranquility from dawning upon me. The Talk zone spouts a prolonged dialog on the importance of speech to our world. An interactive area allows people to enter a time capsule message. Mine: “Visit www.millenniumadventure.com”.
Low attendance allowed me to watch the early afternoon show instead of my 4 p.m. assigned performance. (The circus-style theatre, which holds 12,000, was less than half-full.) The bright costumes, aerial work, huge props and simple story line – Earth girl falls for sky boy – left much to the imagination. In fact, I kept thinking – why didn’t Britain’s own Andrew Lloyd Webber lend a hand to this effort? The last 10 minutes were exciting, powerful and thrilling even, but overall the extravaganza could have been so much more.
Just like the Dome. After five hours, I left the Millennium Dome wishing it offered a little more oomph, a little more personalization, a little more technology and interactivity, a little more knowledge. In fact, a little more of a lot of things. At one point certainly the Dome-builders believed the potential for this structure was tremendous, but the zones simply fail on delivery and the impact is superficial ho-hum. Young children may leave with glee in their eyes, but if given the choice, I am not sure they would even return.
Riding home on the plush, upscale, new subway line, I thought about the 750,000,000 pounds (US $1,250,000,000) spent on the Dome. Perhaps if a private company built this massive monument I would not have such a thorn in my side over the place, but instead the British government is behind it. Imagine if the money were spent instead on education, church restoration, the poor, drug addicts, the elderly, infrastructure, the hungry, museums, health care, child care. You pick it – almost anyone, anything or any cause would benefit more than the people do who are now visiting the Dome.