As I was following my secret map to the Secret Cinema (SC) location last night I heard a costume-clad SC goer saying to her friend 'Oh It's SOOO much more than just watching a film'. Her friend was clearly a sceptical first-timer who needed some convincing.
I could relate well to the SC new-comer; A couple of years ago that was me. I remember walking nervously to what felt at the time like a sort of underground cult-like gathering. Those who were familiar with the process were jittery with excitement, which met my pessimism with a stark contrast. All I could do was continually question my own sanity in forking out sixty-something pounds on a cinema ticket.
So whilst others chatting excitedly, exchanging character roles, eagerly anticipating what was to come, I apprehensively hung back with my friend. As it turns out I needn't have worried- I wasn't disappointed then, and I wasn't disappointed yesterday either. In fact, each time I walked out of a SC evening I've felt sure that it could not be 'topped'. Each time I've eaten my words, (or more accurately my thoughts).
SC- and by that I mean the entire team (actors, PR dpt, planning dpt, marketing dpt, set designers, lighting technicians, security etc etc) that comes together to form the events, do an impressive job each time. I can honestly say that since I first discovered SC I've felt pretty lucky to be privy to this type of immersive cinema experience. I've not attended this sort of event outside of England but I'll hazard a guess that it's probably the best example of immersive cinema in the country.
Entry into a SC event comes with a steepish price tag (sixty something pounds per person). I agree, if it was just a cinema experience, it would be ridiculously overpriced. But if you think of it for what it really is, a theatre show and cinema ticket wrapped into one, I think you can see why it costs what it does. When you arrive at your secret venue it becomes evident where your pennies have been spent- This is pretty big budget stuff, no expense spared. The gobsmacking sets are littered with incredible actors who make each and every person feel integral to the success of the evening. The whole thing leaves you feeling pretty spoilt, in the best sense of the word.
I'm reasonably thrifty on nights out in London, you've got to be, in order to survive in this city on a modest income. I heard London likened on the radio the other day to a 'cheating partner'. I don't know what it's like to be cheated on, but that persons sentiments resonated with me. Quite often you fork out for something and it just doesn't deliver in the way you'd hoped (oh London, why?). London is an expensive city to have fun in, and I'd generally advise that when you spend that much on a ticket, it's wise to expect to keep your expectations low to avoid max. disappointment. For SC evenings, I'd confidently advise you to keep those expectations high, maybe even crank them up a notch.
The planning behind the scenes must be impressive because everything that happens during the course of the evening works like clockwork. It's impeccable. You'll find yourself well and truly out of your environmental comfort zone, in a setting that is completely unfamiliar to you, doing weird things. This sounds unnerving, but it's actually not, because you feel comfortable knowing that you're in a bubble in which you can explore and engage as much as you want. Let me attempt to explain without giving too much away. Put it this way, last night, on a secret mission of sorts, following instructions of sorts (also a secret), my friend and I took a (very) wrong turn and ended up in an unlit corner of the venue. Before we even had a chance to reassess the situation, someone from SC popped miraculously out of the darkness, torch in hand, and uncondescending, set us on the right path again. You feel safe in the knowledge that the whole experience from start to end has been orchestrated with you, and your optimal experience in mind. I've been to several SC's to date and each time you feel like you're in a grown-up's playground where you can leave the normal 'you' behind, and you won't get told off. As someone who's always been a play-it-safe rule-abiding citizen, with a rebel streak that I struggle to repress, this certainly appeals.
If you're wondering why I'm being so elusive in my description, the SC that I went to last night was a 'Tell No One' theme, in other words a secret that each attendee is trusted to keep. But SC do also do some films which you know the theme of in advance too, of those I personally been to, The Grand Budapest Hotel and of course, Star Wars, stand out the most. But even when you know the film, you'll still be surprised at those what SC manage to pull together. What I can say conclusively about all of the SC's, theme known, or tell no-one' is enjoy the freedom, it's like being a kid again... And no matter your age, young or old, I bet you'll enjoy yourself. I put my money where my mouth is a few months ago when I accompanied my mother and a group of her friends to the Star Wars SC and they loved it.
What I think makes the experience what it is, is the actors and actresses. I might be forgiven for saying that they've got all of the talent, confidence and experience of a West End performer, but with none of the arrogance. If you get your part wrong, or say the wrong thing, they're there to pick up the pieces. You will never, EVER, be made to feel silly. Throw yourself into character and you'll be handsomely rewarded, shown to exclusive areas, and told tips and tricks that'll have onlookers getting jealous.
Another final thing to mention is the variety of food and drink on offer at the SC events. It'll usually match the theme of the evening, and it's always really tasty. I'd advise skipping dinner at home and trying whatever culinary delight awaits you at the venue. It's not too much of an assault on the wallet either. You'll be charged fairly standard London prices, for stuff that's everything but, fairly standard.
All of this comes together to wallop you in the face (in a positive way), and overwhelm you (also in a positive way). The current SC experience had me laughing 'til my face physically ached and also jumping out of my skin. On that note the next Secret Cinema is themed on the infamous horror film '28 Days Later' so I can't even begin to imagine how much THAT would make you jump of your skin. If I muster the courage to go myself I'll be sure to feed back to you on quite how scary it is!
And that, Ladies and Gents, was my long overdue SC ramble. I've sung its praises, with very little negative comments to counterbalance, I know that. But that is a genuine reflection of my experiences to date. What SC offers is something totally out there, entirely 21st century, and exceptionally moreish. Once you get a taste of the collective euphoria, the 'other-worldly' experience, and the sheer exclusivity of the evening, you'll understand.