GlasgGLOW meets Night at the Museum meets Elf was what the latest festive attraction to hit Glasgow was billed as, but a less-than-perfect opening night led to some calling Elfingrove the city’s answer to Fyre Festival.
The event was harshly criticised on social media, with many branding it a ‘waste of money’ and a ‘huge disappointment’.
Organisers promised to make changes as they got set to welcome the next wave of thousands of visitors on Friday night, with over 170,000 people expected to attend the event on its run until January 5.
But is it all that bad?
Well, it’s not quite worthy of a Netflix documentary, but the itison project gave off the air of an Apprentice task gone wrong. The idea is good, but the execution not so much.
From the outside, the museum does look absolutely stunning with an incredible light show illuminating the building in Christmassy colours.
Organisers have done a great job in giving an extra sparkle to one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, but you don’t need to splash out on a ticket to see that.
The ticketed experience inside aims to help us discover Santa’s best kept secret, and meet the elves that help him along the way. It’s very much geared towards being a family friendly night out, but also promises something for all ages.
The tone is set from the off, with “Elf and Safety” welcoming visitors to the museum’s atrium with a jolly ho ho ho and a stocking-full of elf puns.
From there, the crowd is funnelled along towards the first lit up area, the hall containing the famous head sculptures hanging from the roof.
With a soundtrack of haunting Christmas carols accompanying a light show, it’s slightly spooky – although when the music changes to a Glee mashup of a-ha and Queen it’s a tad more cheery.
The building is warm, especially for those still wrapped up from the cold outside, and the bustling crowds don’t allow for much time to enjoy each room inside.
There are fleeting interactions for kids with the elves, who have a different room each. In the first one there’s a ropey MC doing some Christmas wrapping (but without the W) over the beat of Ice Ice Baby, which doesn’t exactly get things off to the best start, no matter what age you are.
There’s also a shiny-suited comic and helper elf trying their best to get kids in the crowd to come up to the mic and share their jokes, and in another room there’s a dancing elf in a kilt shimmying away to Roamin’ in the Gloamin’.
There’s also someone dressed as a Brussels sprout, and kids can interact with Rudolph the moving T-Rex, thankfully without the dismembered limb of an elf that was apparently on display on the opening night.
While the lighting displays with lasers and strobes are good enough to reasonably impress adults and kids alike, the entertainment doesn’t really match up with the promise of a magical Christmas experience.
And in the dark areas, it’s not the easiest path to navigate as you while your way towards the flume where little kids and big kids can post their letters to Santa, and the finale show before the exit.
An added extra is the ‘winter wonderland’ outside. The Christmas market is substantial, with decent food and drink options available. There’s also a silent disco snow globe should you feel in the mood for dancing.
There are certainly plenty of areas where this event could have been a lot better, and justified the admission fee. And with every day it runs, things are likely to improve.
Had it been cheaper, and just a light show, there would perhaps be a few less disappointed punters. But overall, it failed to live up to the hype and expectation that lead to the tickets becoming like gold dust.
There are parts of the museum that you’d expect would be accessible, namely the animal exhibition, which turned out to be roped off and patrolled by security guards.
It seems an odd decision, as many of the kids on the tour round the museum became more fascinated with the exhibits on display than the lights and dancing elves. And you couldn’t really see them in the dark.
The Christmas cheer is also rather jarring at times with some of the exhibits that the festivities are sharing a space with. It’s surely disrespectful to have funky lights and a knight posing for selfies in the same area as a display on the Holocaust, for example.
With tickets costing up to £18.50 for adults and £12.50 for kids at peak times, perhaps it’s better to just visit the museum during the day and take in the important, interesting and valuable experience that offers.
Following the feedback from visitors earlier in the week, in a social media statement on Friday night, organisers itison said: “Last night (Thursday) we finally opened the doors to Elfingrove.
“On a particularly wet evening we were delighted to welcome just under 7,000 people.
“Our goal is to put on events that push the creative boundaries and, with Elfingrove, deliver a night at the museum event where the museum was brought to life and we revealed Santa’s ancient secret.
“Overall, we’ve had great feedback on the experience but we are aware it didn’t meet everyone’s expectations. Our aim is to listen and evolve the show based on the feedback given.
“We’re really proud to bring this event to Glasgow and hope the tweaks made following the feedback from opening night will ensure that everyone attending over the coming days and weeks has an amazing night out with family & friends.”
Speaking to STV News last night, Oli Norman, CEO of itison, said: “Of course when you put on an event like this, particularly in year one when were trying to do something so ambitious, were not going to meet everyone’s expectations.
“It’s always a real shame because we put real heart into it and were trying to deliver something really unique and something that’s really big, but the risk of doing so is that not everyone is going to love it.
“What I would say to people who have bought tickets is to come and make your own mind up.”