Inside Secret Cinema (Sssshhh)
The immersive cinema kings are back with a new one. And fittingly, it’s all about secrets this time. Obviously we can’t say much, but we will scatter cryptic clues throughout this review for you, starting off with this Churchillian misquotation: the experience involves riddles wrapped in mysteries with a bit of enigma on the side.
If that’s hard to crack then we should say here that almost everything about this extreme film night is a bit of a puzzle. Our phone dies just before we arrive, which means we lose the venue’s coordinates and end up having to follow people in fancy dress in the hope they are going to the same place. Luckily they are; unluckily they can’t work out the designer map they’ve been sent, so we still end up walking around in circles on an industrial estate for 30 minutes before finally finding the way in. (Lesson one: leave yourself plenty of time to get there).
Once through the perimeter, a sizeable contingent of staff — all in character — make up for the absence of help outside, processing us with shifty, shifting accents (New Yoik? Texas? Brummy?) as they zap tickets and check bags. At the final post before entering fully we are jokily upbraided for forgetting our codenames and category but then sent in anyhow. (Lesson two: make sure you thoroughly read the website and do all the stuff it tells you in advance if you don’t want to look like a lemon).
After this we come in out of the cold and into a vast hangar for the first stage of the main event. The scale is impressive, though perhaps not quite as awe-inspiring as we’d been led to believe by looking at clips of the last two events (epic recreations of the worlds in Back To The Future and The Empire Strikes Back).
In truth, what makes the immersive element work this time round are the clustered crowds of people in costume who animate the lightly-detailed, open-plan set. Most of them are game punters, though actors darting through to bark orders and drag the others hither and thither help to build up an intriguing sense of narrative urgency.
It’s fairly frantic at first, until scenes start to evolve from the chaos — briefings, fist-fights, engagements, goodbyes. Some of these are fun, some don’t make much sense, some are less well-judged (one poor woman is made to do 69 press ups: one for each pound she spent on her ticket, perhaps).
It’s a bit of a relief to get to the bar where the cocktails are themed to match the mise-en-scene. The food and drink on offer is typically-priced designer street stall fare and most of the people serving play along and crack wise nicely. We liked the bar staff — who get the panto just about right, without trying too hard.
What all of the early preamble adds up to is uncertain, but we’re fairly glad when klaxons signal the start of the film itself, off in another section of the building. This is the best part of the evening by far. The movie is a good choice: fun, funny and not so obvious as to be one everyone has seen 100 times.
The staging is slick, with six screens arranged around the audience and a platform in the middle for actors to mime along with some of the key scenes. This is agreeable enough for the most part, though occasionally you do think they could have gone for counterpoint rather than constant karaoke (a bit of dance in an action scene or something else less on the nose).
Whether the night is worth the high entrance price (especially when many don’t know what film they’re watching in advance) is the key question here. We’d have to say that the target audience of film buffs with money to burn will probably have a hoot. It’s unlikely to convert the sceptical or those who find fancy dress a chore. But then again, Soviet-souled people like that can just stay at home and play I Spy.
Tickets for the new Secret Cinema screening are still available. It's £64.50 to be a standard operative, £129 to be a level X operative. The season runs until 20 March. Londonist attended on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 29 February 2016