Unusual Expo do exactly that


As a design team they have been delivering imaginative projects since the mid 1980’s with experience across museums, heritage, events and attractions. “We feel that we are always able to bring a little more to the projects we get involved in thanks to our wide mix of experience.” Says Martin Wilkie, Design Director. “Especially within the Heritage sector.”

Quite often the outlook from established venues can be understandably conservative but we find that our audiences often relish the unexpected when visiting somewhere established.” Martin’s enthusiasm for dealing with ‘unusual’ venues and spaces is obvious.

Unusual Expo have recently worked with the team at Cardiff Castle to bring an often overlooked historical character to life. Back in 1316 Llywelyn Bren fought for the rights of the Welsh people and was cruelly and unjustly executed at the castle. The new visitor experience is contained within the tower in which he was imprisoned. Martin explains; “The spaces were being used as ad-hoc storage which is often what happens to rooms that people working there can’t see for what they are worth in terms of a visitor experience. Given the creative brief to bring these rooms back to life gave us so many exciting opportunities. The story itself is an amazing heroic tale and audience reaction both young and old has been fantastic. This is where knowing how to get the best out of a story whilst respecting historic environments really pays off.”

The Unusual Expo team quickly identified the visitor flow and devised a clever three stage staff guided experience. The first room feels like a museum department complete with projects undergoing conservation. It’s only when the 14th century tapestry comes to life (with clever projected animation) that you realise you are in a different world.

The castle’s actual portcullis mechanism is equally effective in coming to life when in fact it is another projection trick with an added set of winches and chains adding to the theatre. In the main room you are sat down in genuine reclaimed church pews as a giant book, The Black Tower Tales unfolds before your very eyes. The mortal enemy character appears as a holographic vision complete with dramatic effects and a highly immersive three wall projection sequence. It has added a significant extra offer for visitors without any structural changes. Finding extra headline offers can make all the difference to established venues that can often get caught up with the day to day running of their site and let their visitor profile stagnate.

As Martin reminds us nothing they have installed changed the integrity of the rooms which feel very atmospheric. “Projection and clever lighting is a great way to re-imagine a space without damaging anything at all!” Unusual Expo seem to be able to find the right use for all sorts of unloved spaces. Martin continues “The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich had a redundant former lecture theatre that was tantalisingly close to their main public areas but had just been used for storage.” Thankfully the ORNC had seen the site’s potential and asked Unusual Expo to see if they could add it to a forthcoming exhibition about Nelson’s surgeon William Beatty.

With the theatrical flair for making the most of any space set designer Stuart Wescombe soon got to work transforming this redundant space into the famous surgeon’s operating theatre. Martin reiterates, “Using these untapped spaces can be a very economic way to refresh your visitor offer. In this instance the room was transformed into being below deck on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. I hope that our experience with live events and media projects helps us work quickly to answer a brief. A lot of the artists and services we use are used to tight deadlines which is perhaps not always the case in the museum sector?”

The resulting experience is a great addition to the site and helps make your visit stick in your mind, especially having seen a leg amputation take place in front of your very eyes! The team have also recently updated the RAF Biggin Hill Museum. Martin again, “I’m probably guilty of just never having grown up! It can be good to visit venues with the viewpoint of a six year old child as quite often they have been created by committee and the fun can often get squeezed out as the budget and vision have to cover more and more bases.

We quite often suggest something that clients say was dropped from the original brief but is an obvious crowd pleaser. In the case of Biggin Hill we have managed to bring a full sized Spitfire VR experience into their Chapel annex and turn a former seating area into a dramatic Air Raid Shelter Experience complete with a genuine WWII Anderson Shelter, boy those shelters are tiny!” From spaces large and small it’s obvious that Unusual Expo understand the value of unlocking the inner child in us all.

Their award winning Spanish Flu exhibition at the  Florence Nightingale Museum has been featured in this publication before and brought the museum a lot news coverage and extra footfall. Their ingenious use of mirrors made a modest room into an expansive view of period hospital beds as far as the eye could see. Again the simple use of projection onto the walls and even beds caught the eye. Oddly impressive was a quick change in the lighting from dim and atmospheric to complete Ultra Violet which revealed the finger prints, spit and even wee that carried the fatal virus. Something quite eerie just a year before we were hit by Covid 19.

The team seem well suited to bringing all sorts of stories to life having also worked in film and TV and having created and delivered the 14 venue UK tour for Doctor Who Up-Close for the BBC. It ran between 2005 to 2010 and attracted over 2.1 million visitors.

A last word from Martin, “Our Website cheekily says: Anything, Anywhere, Anytime, just ASK! I very much hope that we bring that level of enthusiasm, creativity and added value to any venue large or small, just ASK!”


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