The Washington Post

London statues ‘talk’ about themselves

Helen Lederer next to a statue of Hodge the Cat, one of the Talking Statues in London, England. Passers-by can swipe their smartphones on a tag or type in a Web address to get an instant call from characters depicted in three dozen statues. (Philip Toscano/AP)

If you are visiting London, England, Peter Pan would like to have a word with you.

The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up is part of a new interactive arts project is giving a voice to dozens of statues of historical and fictional characters in London, allowing them to tell their stories and entertain curious visitors and weary commuters as they pass by.

“Every city everywhere has statues that go ignored,” Colette Hiller, creative director of arts producers Sing London, said recently at the project’s launch. “So we thought about how we could work with the writers, the actors, the comedians from that city to bring them to life.”

To get an instant “call” from one of the statues — say from one depicting mathematician Isaac Newton at the British Library — people can swipe their smartphones on a plaque to scan a digital code, or type in a Web address. They can then listen to a speech from the character, played by actors including Patrick Stewart and Hugh Bonneville, famous from the British TV series “Downton Abbey.”

Stewart voices the Unknown Soldier at Paddington station, while Bonneville speaks for Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the engineer best known for building many of England’s most important railways and tunnels.

In total, 35 statues in London and Manchester are featured. The choices are eclectic: Along with Holmes, who laments the absence of Dr. Watson by his side at Baker Street station, there’s author Samuel Johnson’s cat Hodge and an unnamed couple on a bench. Some educate with a bit of history, but most come with a healthy dose of humor.

Queen Victoria’s starts: “Thank you for calling me on this strange machine. I have become very bored sitting here all day holding an extremely heavy scepter and orb.”

The statues will talk for a year, and organizers hope to bring them to other cities. For more information, go to (Always ask a parent before visiting a Web site.)

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