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Secret Cinema goes Cold War

An unhinged American threatens the planet's safety? Surely only in fiction...

By Sameer Rahim  
A scene from Secret Cinema © Camilla Greenwell

A scene from Secret Cinema © Camilla Greenwell

Walking to a hidden location somewhere in east London, a US army truck rumbled past with armed men in fatigues hanging out the back. Shortly, we arrived at what looked like a military base where the guards checked our papers. A black cab pulled up and asked what was going on. “Nothing to see here,” said a guard, “please move along.” He drove on bemused. Inside, we and fellow members of the press, were told to sniff out information about a secret nuclear plan from a woman inside the compound. Keen news hounds, we pushed on to find the story.

Sadly, none of this was real. We were at Secret Cinema, an immersive theatrical experience based round a well-known film. Running since 2007, they have had great popular success recently with Back to the Future and Star Wars—to the extent that the idea of stepping into the secret world the name originally signified has been lost somewhat. Last week’s event—labelled as “Tell No One”—was an attempt to recapture that spirit. I was told I wasn’t even allowed to mention the name of the film, though reading between the lines it won’t be hard for anyone to guess. (Or you could just look on Twitter.)

The theme was Cold War paranoia in the 1960s. As reporters, dressed in trench coats and hats, our task was to explore several different rooms in the hangar-like space, in which scenes from the film were played out and additional plot-lines developed by actors. Unlike other immersive theatre experiences I have been to, this was fairly chaotic and we were not guided much about where to go and what to do. The actors, playing military personnel, journalists, diplomats, sauntered round trying to draw you in by enacting a story or setting you a mystery. Some coaxed and some shouted. Once you joined a group, you followed that plot. Or you could ignore all that and sit in the mess room to eat. (The food, and the ticket prices, are not cheap.)

The current presidential race in America provided fodder for the cast to play off. One mocked-up newspaper had a picture of Donald Trump—who resembles one character in the film to a remarkable extent. Other excitements included a firefight between rival soldiers and a choreographed boxing match.

To get the most out of the experience, you had to find the best performers. We latched on to a tall newspaper reporter with a card in his hat. We found ourselves in a world of presidential intrigue, diplomacy and attempted assassination. It was fun, in a hokey kind of way.

The film itself is a work of unsurpassed comic genius. The actors performing on a stage in front of the screen, mouthing the words, were a distraction. At some points they realised this, and for the virtuoso moments stayed out of the way and let the screen actors dominate.

Walking home we discussed how the evening had gone. It was undeniably enjoyable and slickly done. But was the experience really worth it given you can watch this film right now on Netflix? I’m not so sure.

My other thought was that it’s a shame that the talented writers and actors had gone to such effort to recreate a ready-made, familiar film. The nostalgia for past cultural glories can become wearying. But you have to admire the ingenuity and the effort involved—and allow that both the actors and the audience seemed to be having one hell of a time.

Further details for Secret Cinema can be found here

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