Why Banksy's #Dismaland is better than you'd ever expected

On the opening day of Banksy’s Dismaland exhibition in Weston-super-mare, Tom May reveals how visitors reacted to the controversial theme park.

Earlier today I was lucky enough to be among the first set of public visitors to Dismaland, Banksy's post-apocalyptic theme park in the British seaside town of Weston-super-Mare. And it was even better than I imagined.

No copyright issues here, obviously

By now you've probably seen so many photos in blog posts, newspaper and TV reports, you may think it's not worth checking out the street art star's project in the flesh. If that's the case, I'd urge you to rethink.

We can't print what this young child just called our prime minister

Firstly, most of the photos you've seen were taken during a carefully controlled press event, which is not the same as being in a real crowd of people appreciating and (crucially) interacting with the exhibits.

Visitors weren't shy about interacting with the exhibits

And in true Banksy style, they are highly interactive, from the 'Hook a Duck' game that's dominated by a giant oil-drenched swan to the carnival cutouts ('stick your head through and take a photo') of paramilitary soliders, and the merrygoround where the horses are being recycled into lasagne.

On first entering the Bristolian street artist's imagined dystopia, it's a bit of a shock. Banksy has designed a broken down, crummy-looking fairground experience so well, that for a second you feel the joke's actually on you.

It may be the apocalypse, but at least you can still get ice cream

But that soon passes. Once you persevere, and investigate the twisted attractions, run by purposely surly, obnoxious staff, you soon realise that the delight is in the detail.

The staff are all purposely morose and rude to visitors

From the paparazzi stalking Cinderella in her pumpkin coach to the 'Freak Show' tent featuring Damien Hirst's unicorn in formaldehyde, you'll need a good hour and a half to take in everything across the 2.5 acre site, the disused grounds of the town's much-missed Tropicana swimming centre.

Even the storm troopers are depressed in Dismaland

At this point you'll sit down, have a beer (yes, there is a bar) and start chatting to a passer-by. They'll mention several clever elements you completely missed the first time round, and you'll be forced to go round the whole thing again.

Next page: Find out more about Banksy's Dismaland…