Workers are spending more than seven pounds on a pint these days in London. I have been one of those people. Getting ripped off is tiring, but so many places rip you off in London that it feels impossible to keep track of what’s actually a good price, and what feels acceptable but actually isn’t.
My housemate laughed recently when I told him there were £6 pints in a venue we were going to, as if that were some great feat. “London is gaslighting us,” he screamed, nostalgic about life back home in Belgium. By the same token, am I being gaslit by Phantom Peak, a “theme park style town” with ticket prices costing £34 to enter? Then it’s the best part of £14 for a veggie burger or veggie pie, and then of course, there are the pints.
I don’t ordinarily think the cost of tickets should strongly influence a review. In some cases, it’s worth putting in a sentence or two about how sadly some families will be priced out by the high cost of shows, but typically that feeling shouldn’t affect the review of the creative experience. But in the case of Phantom Peak, the £34 feels so steep that it’s hard to criticise the entertainment without thinking about the cost.
I think that the make-believe Steampunk town that’s been temporarily built in a car park near Surrey Quays Overground station feels escapist. And for an hour or so, I run around the place with a friend and I think I’m having a gleeful time completing a challenge about a town overlord. There seems to be a take-home message about misinformation and I’m all for that.
I also think it looks relatively pretty, with a fake waterfall and some outdoor seating by the canal, and a genuinely cute actual boat trip on a pretend canal. I’m definitely sure this raised a smile. But when I could buy a ticket to Alton Towers online today and go tomorrow for £49, I find it impossible to judge any of these activities without thinking back to that price.
Following Punchdrunk’s success with The Burnt City, the immersive theatre show which runs until Christmas and hosts 600 people a night at around £70 a pop, no doubt investors are eyeing opportunities to create a buck out of immersive experiences in the capital.
But this just doesn’t add up. If Phantom Peak were a themed bar, I’d feature it as a top pick to go to at the weekend for a lovely cocktail. I get that it can’t be a themed bar with no admission price. Rents in London, even for car parks in Surrey Quays like this one, are high, and therefore there must be an entrance fee. But you wouldn’t even get a beer and burger out of £50 once you’d bought your ticket, and there are no discounts for children.
Perhaps an extended version with more than two hour’s worth of attractions might help justify the cost, and if we’re getting into it, more of a cohesive vision of a town where the bar people and food vendors are also in character. Instead, hospitality vendors jolt you out of the fictional town by being just… ordinary bar people, for the most part, and separate from the wandering actors.
“The only way they even had the audacity to charge that is ‘cause it’s in London,” my friend said as she finished her ice cream. “And that’s not reason enough.”
I’m afraid it’s time to call the sheriff – let’s shut this place down.
Phantom Peak is bookable online and will have themed Halloween and Christmas events