Secret Cinema brings the immersive world of James Bond to life in Casino Royale
The name's Bond... James Bond... Perhaps you've heard of him? Yes, folks, Ian Fleming's world-famous MI6 agent is back, but we're not referring to the upcoming 25th instalment in the historic movie franchise, scheduled to be released in 2020 as Daniel Craig's fifth and final outing as 007. We're talking about the live theatrical/cinematic hybrid that has just officially opened at a secret location in London, currently drawing in thousands of Bond-aficionados from all over the country and from abroad. Over the past few years, Secret Cinema has taken keen film fans to a galaxy far, far away in "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back," to the summer resort of Kellerman's in "Dirty Dancing," to the heart of Montmartre in "Moulin Rouge!," and to Verona Beach in "Romeo + Juliet," but now, for the very first time, the company takes on perhaps the most iconic character in British pop culture in "Secret Cinema presents Casino Royale."
Fleming's Bond first debuted in the 1953 novel Casino Royale, so it's rather fitting that Secret Cinema has chosen the 2006 film adaptation, starring Daniel Craig in his Bond debut, for its first foray into the franchise. Of course, in building an immersive world based around the British Secret Service agent, there is ample opportunity for glamour, tuxedos, evening gowns, martinis and Aston Martins, and the creative forces behind Secret Cinema have certainly not disappointed when it comes to the scenic design of this production. With their signature eye for attention to detail, various locations from the movie have been recreated in a sort of international labyrinth and the good news is it's all indoors, so no need to worry about the typically unpredictable British summertime weather. As always, there'll be no spoilers here as one of the main entertainment factors of the Secret Cinema productions is the element of surprise. What I can say is that you're certain to cross paths with a host of actors, playing recognisable characters from the movie, and interaction with these is strongly recommended as you go about your secret undercover mission. We attended Wednesday's press night and I have to admit I was struck by how eager the cast was to get us involved in the action and the pre-screening storyline as much as possible. We were regularly approached to find out how we were getting on with our mission, given pearls of wisdom and wholeheartedly encouraged to remain in our pre-assigned characters and develop our backstories. In fact, the actors probably approached us just as many times as we sought to engage them in conversation. So, kudos to the cast for making the event such a participatory experience!
Ahead of the press night, we caught up with Angus Jackson, the Creative Director for "Casino Royale," as well as Secret Cinema's Group Creative Producer, Kevin Fitzmaurice, to get their thoughts on tackling the high-octane world of 007 and the future expansion of the company. Both men have an impressive background in theatre, having worked extensively at some of the country's finest establishments from the Royal Shakespeare Company to the Young Vic to the National Theatre, so we were intrigued about what drew them to this relatively new and en vogue form of entertainment and storytelling. "The sheer scale of it," Angus Jackson confesses to me as to why he joined the company. "When I sit on the set, it feels like a film set - surrounded by the team or the audience or the 50 or so actors and performers. Kevin Fitzmaurice left the RSC to join Secret Cinema and I congratulated him and realised what a massive film fan I am. So, we went to one together - Romeo + Juliet. I’ve always admired him from his Young Vic days, as well as the RSC, so when he invited me, it immediately appealed. I like to write as well as direct and this seemed a perfect combination of the two, writing a narrative that sits alongside the movie. It’s similar to making a prequel movie."
Indeed, the intricate storyline that makes up the first part of the evening is such a unique experience for Bond fans, who get to become an active part of a world premiere 007 spin-off prequel in some respects. And where to start with such a mammoth undertaking? "I called Martin Campbell in LA, who directed the film, and we talked a lot about the reality of the film," Jackson revealed. "James Bond getting injured, really falling in love, the textured nature of the film which is different to many recent Bond movies. It’s a beautiful film. Bond changes, learns and becomes something at the end he isn’t at the start. Into that we put some of the iconic images from the movies, I don’t need to tell you what those are, but we have them."
"Casino Royale" is shaping up to be yet another critical and commercial success for the company and, according to Kevin Fitzmaurice, the future's looking bright: "The potential is enormous. There’s a huge audience who have grown up with video games and online technology – inventing characters, role playing, immersing themselves in worlds and having fun doing it."
"Casino Royale is the first Secret Cinema show I’ve been involved with from the start," Fitzmaurice continued. "And it’s been impressive to see the amount of energy that’s gone in to making it happen."
Up until now, the productions have always been presented in secret locations throughout London, but surely, with so much momentum behind them, it's just a matter of time before Secret Cinema becomes a global force to be reckoned with? "It’s a natural development for Secret Cinema to expand internationally," Fitzmaurice tells me. "The films at the heart of the shows are known worldwide. So yes, we are already working to export our productions to key territories where we believe there’s a market for them. New York, for example, has to be high on the list."
But there is no intention of leaving London in the lurch in pursuit of the American dream, however, because, even before press night for the current production, the company has already announced its next venture: "This November we launch Stranger Things with the team bringing the world of a TV series to life for the first time," Fitzmaurice exclaims. "I can’t wait!"
And we certainly can't wait either! But, in the meantime, there's plenty of opportunity for fans to immerse themselves in the treacherous world of MI6, sip on a signature martini or two, and above all, have a thoroughly entertaining night out: "I hope they have a really great evening," says Angus Jackson in closing. "We do all the work so that they can have a great night out! I also hope they see the film afresh - as something they are invested in and part of. Under all these great popular films - and this is a great movie - there’s a rich world of emotion and meaning. By giving people a great ride, I hope we dig into some of that for them."
Secret Cinema presents Casino Royale is playing until 22nd September 2019.
(Photos by Luke Dyson)