This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.
The film is secret, the location is secret until a few days before the performance and all the information the audience is given is the dress code, an identity and a few business cards to print out.
This is the 21st outing of secret cinema and although their mantra is “tell no one”, it is evident that quite a few people know about it. The evening is split into two parts, first of which the audience is free to roam, interacting with characters played by both actors and audience alike, then comes the main feature itself. The vast and gorgeous art deco building is fully fitted out with bars, press office, police station and even apartments available to rent. The actors to audience ratio is high and it means that everyone will have the opportunity to interact with the cast if desired.
One may decide for this to be an occasion to dress up and have a great time socialising with friends in highly atmospheric surroundings which a few people do. The alternative is to participate in the storyline and speak to all the characters and explore the building. The reward will be endless missions to meet various characters to seek or provide information, or even a chance to rummage around in an office to seek out incriminating evidence whilst ending up hiding out in a toilet.
The actors are highly professional and remain well in character. The storylines are detailed and go beyond the base material of the film such as political scandals and love affairs that are not apparent in the movie. In some ways, the extended prelude uses the film as an inspiration and sets the scene and tone of the evening.
However, there are a couple of jarring aspects to the whole venture. The lure of secret cinema is because the audience will go along without knowing what film it is and pay a not insubstantial amount for the privilege. Despite the work surrounding the screening, it may still be a film that is not to everyone’s taste. This is not the same as a secret play where the text may not be well liked but the production may still rescue it. In this case, a film is still the same as it was made. Secondly, in one interaction a character suggests I sample the sandwiches available and I was duly led to one of the many food outlets to purchase them. This overt commercialism leaves a somewhat unsavoury impression of the production.
Nonetheless, this is no doubt a very slick operation with a high production value. And Secret Cinema is a well established brand with an impressive amount of resources which pull off a grand scale immersive theatrical experience.
Photo: Hanson Leatherby