If you’re looking for a great day out with the children over the Easter hols, thenLondon’s SouthBank is hard to beat – Borough Market, Tate Modern and The London Eye are all reason enough to visit. The SouthBank Centre has long been brilliant for young people, with myriad events, workshops and shows, plus the fantastic Imagine Festival and, of course, all those big spaces to run about in. At the moment, though, the big draw is Adventures in Moominland, an enchanting exploration of the work of Tove Jansson and her much-loved characters. Alfie, Kitty and I visited at half term and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately as I had no idea what to expect) you are not allowed to take photos inside the exhibition.
It’s an immersive experience, a cross between theatre and exhibition, so, at your allotted ticket time (don’t be late or you won’t be let in), you enter through a door masquerading as a huge book and step into the story with a small group and a guide. You then walk through many landscapes from Jansson’s life and books – starting with Snufkin’s tent, complete with sandy floor, then Jansson’s studio, both humid and snowy forests, Sniff’s cave, an island, a lighthouse and the Moomin home – with narration from the fabulous Sandi Toksvig, accompanied by a jazz score and additional information from the guide. It is recommended for ages seven and up, but four-and-a-half-year-old Kitty enjoyed it as much as Alfie, although there were a couple of moments (hiding from the comet in Sniff’s cave and the anticipation of the Groke) where she almost wobbled. She’s pretty hardy, so I’d advise caution with more sensitive souls, especially as once you’re in you really have to follow it around to the conclusion (except in an emergency, obviously). On that note, I’d advise a trip to the loos with little ones just before you go in as the experience is about an hour long.
The children loved the feeling of being in Moominland, particularly seeing the sleeping Moomins in bed, and there was a fun activity at the end where they created and named a new character. The sets are peppered with original sketches, letters, illustrations, books and ephemera (such as Jansson’s floral crown) displayed in benches, trunks, niches and other quirky spaces for visitors to hunt down, and there’s plenty for grown-ups to enjoy in terms of social history. I hadn’t realised that the comet symbolised the atomic bomb or that characters Thingumy and Bob were Jansson and her partner, the secret in their suitcase representing their then illegal relationship. All in all a fascinating experience for Moomintroll fans of all ages. I’m sure there would be more to discover on a second visit.
Adventures in Moominland, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX. Until 20 August. Tickets cost from £12. Sign-language interpreted and relaxed tours are available monthly, while adults-only sessions run on Wednesdays at 7pm and Thursdays and Fridays at 7pm and 8pm.