I visited The Power of Poison, a temporary exhibition located in the Old Truman Brewery in London. It took me a while to find it, as it is hidden away down a side street. Once inside the foyer, you descend into the basement, which is cloaked in black as a backdrop to this fascinating exhibition.
The first section looks at poisons that occur in the natural world, created by animals and plants to protect themselves from danger. It is decked out like a Columbian jungle and is full of scary, larger-than-life models of spiders, ants and scorpions that can kill or maim with their poison. Monkeys, too, can be poisonous, and some birds wipe their wings in poison to protect themselves.
I also learned about the distinction between poison and venom – snakes, for instance, are venomous because although they can bite and inject you with venom, they are safe to eat when cooked. A case of real Golden Poison Frogs is at the centre of the room.
I then moved on to the second section, looking at the myths and legends surrounding poison. This space touched on the Mad Hatter (mercury used heavily by Victorian hatters was supposed to make them mad), the Witches of Macbeth (whose ingredients for spells could be interpreted as different kinds of poisonous plants) and Snow White (is there really a poison that could give the illusion of death?).
A wall of books showcases the most famous tales that feature poison, including the Harry Potter series, the Sherlock Holmes stories and Agatha Christie’s detective novels.
I found it really interesting to see how the exhibition put these stories and fables into historical and scientific context, looking at the truth behind the tales. Antidotes and charms, real or supposed, are also included in this section.
The final section is about detecting poisons, and you can test your own skill using one of the supplied iPads to solve poison-related mysteries. I really enjoyed this bit and took great pride in getting them all right first time (in fairness they are really designed for children!). The exhibition as a whole is really well thought-out and put together, and while I’m not convinced it is worth the full admission price, it’s certainly deserving of a visit if you can get hold of a cheaper ticket.