Well that was strange, a knock on the door of a Georgian town house on Craven Street in London. Answered by a fairly uninterested teenager who looked a little confused when I asked for a tour. But I did get on the 2 o’clock tour, or rather ‘Historical Experience’ and it continued to be rather strange.
Benjamin Franklin’s House, like many other historic houses in London (see Dr Johnson’s House) has the wooden panelling, subdued but elegant paintwork, narrow staircases and wooden window shutters that I love. But it doesn’t have any contents. Rather, after a short video an actress playing Polly Hewson, the daughter of Franklin’s landlady who also lived at the lodging house with him, collects you and takes you on a tour of the house.
But the actress doesn’t speak to you. Instead, she interacts with spoken word recordings and images projected on the walls as you are told the story of Benjamin Franklin’s life in London, his political role in trying to keep peace between the UK and the American colonies and a bit about some of his experiments.
Two things disappointed me about this. Firstly, it told me nothing about the house itself, what happened in each room, which rooms Franklin occupied, where he sat to do his experiments etc (although maybe the architectural tour on a Monday tells you this). And, secondly by the time the ‘experience’ had ended I was kind of ready to leave rather than spend another 30 mins asking all these questions I had.
I was, however, quite taken by the actress who led the tour, as in she pulled off the passive, almost ghost like role very well. You don’t have to worry about having a far too enthusiastic tour guide trying to get you involved and listening to an obnoxious bore in the audience who thinks they’d do a better job. But at the same time, you’re not left on your own following an audio guide and getting bored. So really its a nice mix.
Albeit a bit of a strange mix. But strange in a museum context can’t be a bad thing, strange in museums is good and should be applauded. Strange is a much better word to fill a review with than bored.