A Secret Cinema Summer
From the dystopian world of "Blade Runner" to Baz Luhrmann's Verona Beach in "Romeo + Juliet"...
Founded in 2007 by Fabien Riggall, Secret Cinema has grown to become one of the leading brands of innovative entertainment whose appeal not only stretches to Londoners but also to both a national and international fanbase. The company's ardent followers wait with bated breath for the reveal of the next major production and 2018 has certainly not been a disappointment for them so far. Over the past decade, Secret Cinema has presented unique live experiences, blending together cinema and theatre in fully immersive, 360 degree environments where film fans have the opportunity to dress up, get into character, dive into a world inspired by a particular movie and actually interact with actors portraying that film's characters. Some of their biggest successes to date have included hybrid productions inspired by such classics as "Back to the Future," "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back," "Dirty Dancing," "Ghostbusters," "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge!" to name just a few. Next on the cards is another Luhrmann classic, with an outdoor presentation of "Romeo + Juliet" set to run from the 8th to the 25th August at a secret location in London.
Yesterday, LondonTheatre.co.uk was invited to attend the final performance of Secret Cinema presents Blade Runner - The Final Cut which was staged in a secret area close to Canning Town station, simply referred to as "World Terminus". In preparation for the event, we were assigned characters and dress codes and encouraged to bring certain items, such as goggles and transparent umbrellas due to apparent outbreaks of "acid rain". Kitted out as Luke Shavers, an Executive Host/Ambassador for Utopia, I arrived at the venue at 6pm and was promptly thrown head-first into the dystopian setting of the cult 1982 science fiction movie. Greeted by actors demanding to see your (previously printed out) identity papers and ushered like cattle indoors, we emerged in a neon-drenched set inspired by the China Town location from "Blade Runner" and, at our own leisure, we explored the various, meticulously designed areas that film fans would instantly recognise. There was also ample opportunity to purchase drinks and Asian food (or hotdogs and burgers, if you please) which is a wise idea, considering the event can last around five hours.
If you embrace your character and are open to interactions with the vast number of actors, you'll certainly make the most of your live experience. For patrons who might be a little more reserved, there is still plenty to feast the eyes upon, as key scenes are played out in various locations and there was a generous helping of live musical performances and exotic dancing on display at "The Snake Pit" bar... until we became the victims of an LAPD raid, that is.
One of the highlights of Secret Cinema presents Blade Runner - The Final Cut has to be the indoor "acid rain" which, given the current temperatures in London, was an extremely welcomed and refreshing soaking. And it was the first rave I have attended in artificial rain with transparent brollies to hand, so I can gleefully tick that one off the ole bucket list!
As always, the film screening was accompanied by live action at key moments of the movie and the lighting design was equally impressive with the employment of searchlights and strobe. As the credits began to roll, the audience was finally invited to party the night away with a free fortune cookie and new (non-replicant) memories that will last you a lifetime. We can't wait to see what transpires in Verona Beach when Secret Cinema presents Romeo + Juliet rolls into town! For tickets and more information, be sure to check out the official Secret Cinema website.
Ahead of last night's adventure, we were able to catch up with Matt Bennett, Creative Director at Secret Cinema, who has worked on both Blade Runner and the upcoming production of Romeo + Juliet, and we think you'll find his behind-the-scenes insight into the amount of planning that goes into these immersive experiences most illuminating...
Q: What are the main challenges of the Secret Cinema productions as a Creative Director?
A: Keeping ideas simple yet intriguing. We need our audience to arrive in a world and start to participate immediately, sometimes for up to three hours before the film starts. We spend seven months developing and producing a show, so the possibility of going too off-piste or conjuring storylines that are confusing or too detailed is a constant worry. Every day we must interrogate whether new developments are serving the audience well. We have to make sure we are not over cooking their experience yet keep it detailed enough to deliver the level of obsession, thrill and satisfaction that our audience now demand.
Another challenge is keeping our show authentic and accurate. We can take a 15 second scene from a film and use this reference to build out a whole mini world full of actors, music, stories and various performances. For example in Blade Runner the lead character Deckard visits a nightclub called Taffey’s Snake Pit. It’s the smokey, seedy venue where he stalks Zhora. He’s only in the bar briefly and you hear just two very short clips of music. At Secret Cinema, we then need to take this narrow frame of information and expand it into a six hour night club experience that runs before, during and after the film. Our Taffey's Snake Pit bar is a thriving hotbed of live music, musical exotica, strange performances and shadowy characters.
Navigating surprises related to films we're working on! The sequel film‘Blade Runner - 2049’ was an interesting hurdle since we started designing our show long before the sequel was released in late 2017. This meant half way through our own planning, a whole new generation of facts, narrative, characters and background to the Blade Runner world was dropped into our mix that we had no control over.
Thankfully one of the many threads we were able to weave into our production was that of “blackout”, a disruptive movement of anarchists intent of deleting all data. This helped the director of ‘2049' link the two very distant films together, but for us Blackout became the overarching story of how we plugged our audience into the start of the film. We fully adopted this underground movement as our own. We sowed a retrospective trail of breadcrumbs from ‘2049’ back into our show whilst presenting a social movement that reflected modern society, the Cambridge Analytica controversy and the ongoing misuse of personal data that affects every audience member who walked through the door.
Q: Was there a particular creative element of Secret Cinema presents Blade Runner – The Final Cut you were most proud of?
A: Blade Runner is often described as the godfather of science fiction. And alongside fellow creative director Lucy Ridley, we decided to design our pre-film story as a prequel to the main film screening. But this came with a lot of stress and worry since we needed to write and produce a world that made total sense to our audience and the most staunchly observant fan. Ultimately it seems we satisfied everyone from the hardcore fans to the passing guest as I’m yet to read any negative feedback about how we delivered the audience and their expectation into the start of the credits. I am glad we managed to do justice to a story and far flung dystopian society that has been preserved in the minds of fans for so long.
Secondly, mixing our sets and story with the incredible music of Vangelis. At Secret Cinema music sits at the heart of every show. Whether it be the love songs of Moulin Rouge, the Motown of Dr Strangelove or the North African melodies from Star Wars’ Cantina Bar - every production has a pulsating reinterpretation of the original music at its core. Blade Runner was no different and we worked with three composers to pay such potent homage to the original score by the synth god Vangelis. One of our composers was Rival Consoles aka Ryan West, one of the UK’s most ascendant and arresting electronic producers. To bring a musician of such talent and hear him convey the same emotional tone as Vangelis, yet delivered through such different arrangements and songs made me incredibly proud.
Q: What kind of creative opportunities does a film like Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet provide for you?
There are SO many rich opportunities for Secret Cinema in presenting Romeo + Juliet. It is such a vivid world begging to be transformed into a hyper real environment. It’s the world’s greatest love story; a romantic epic ready for you to thrive at its centre … whether you be single or already in love.
It’s a legendary tale of rivalry that allows us to split the audience into two startlingly clear camps then manipulate this energy and rivalry all evening. Allowing the audience to enter the world as mafia bosses and their underlings is such an easy yet thrilling realm to step into.
It’s crammed full of music yet isn’t a musical. We will take the key songs of the film and also of the era and create an experience that borrows all the best elements of musicals without making it exhausted or predictable.
The fact Shakepeare starts his play on “Brawl #3” injects instant suspense. What will happen at Brawls #1 & #2? Who wins?
Another huge draw is the number of stunning and much loved film scenes that we can bring to life during the screening. The fact Baz Luhrmann adapted his film from the stage means Secret Cinema’s transformation of the film into a 360 degree set gives us a large volume of theatrical moments to mirror and bring to life like no-one has ever seen before.
Finally, we have the opportunity to affect lasting change. Secret Cinema partners with a kindred charity on every show. On Romeo + Juliet we are working with MAC-UK.org who have spent the last decade working at grassroots level with communities to tackle the same issues of violence and exclusion we see in the film. Together we will be raising over £100,000 to catalyse youth-led projects in the same London borough as the show to tackle the root causes of youth violence that are mirrored with such clarity between the film and our modern day London streets.