Reading about the closure of the London Planetarium in the Independent yesterday struck me as just sad. It’s fair to say that I haven’t paid it much attention since visiting five or so years ago, which is a terrible indictment in itself, I suppose.
Then Today rang and invited me to go and see a show and comment. Which is where I started receiving unpleasant surprises. For starters, the show is now 15 minutes (if that) instead of the full 45 minutes or an hour, and is part of the whole Tussauds package. That means that it costs something like Â£18 (the figure I was quoted as an ‘average’ adult price) to get in. When you do, there is no attempt to put the planetarium in context with the rest of the exhibits, it just stands as a ‘take it or leave it’ proposition. In these circumstances, it’s not surprising that ‘only’ 30% of visitors take up the chance to see the show (mind you, that’s still something like 600,000 people a year).
The show itself was okay, but it wasn’t a planetarium show. There was not a single reference to the night sky, but instead a rapid tour through the solar system which, while it looked good will fail to impress anyone who has ever been in an IMAX. It was obviously designed to be played on a loop with no need for updating, topical references and information or the input of any astronomers. At over Â£1 a minute per person, is there any wonder that they’re not getting the kind of regular visitors that they used to, back when a trip to the planetarium was the cost of a cinema ticket.
Now, obviously Tussauds are a commercial organisation, and what they do with their space is sadly their business. But having run the planetarium into the ground, moved it so far away from what a planetarium should and could be (especially given such an incredible building) to blame the closure on a lack of public interest really sticks in my throat. I hope that came across on the radio this morning, even it has been swallowed by the Guardian in today’s leader.
For the record, the reason the Today program piece was twseparatete interviews was because Tussauds refused to have a conversation with me on air.
Greenwich have a new planetarium opening next year. I can’t wait.