Whether it’s a desire to escape Brexit chaos or the unforeseen longevity of uncharacteristically burning-hot weather, there’s just something in the air in London this summer. Nowhere is this more evident than at Secret Cinema’s latest immersive experience: Baz Luhrmann’s iconic 90s incarnation of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
The sprawling site for Secret Cinema presents William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet centres around Verona Beach, replicating the setting we can all recall swooning over – with a youthful suit-clad Leonardo DiCaprio looking out through his blond curtains to a simmering sunset back in the 1996 film. More festival ground than movie set, there are a whole host of venues to explore and discover, from an outdoor rave at the Montague Mechanics to a ball in the Capulet Mansion and a bit of everything in between.
Designated Montague or Capulet before you arrive, the role of the attendees works better than ever for this event, with a clear side to follow and interact with, partying with your fellow family members or brawling with your rivals throughout – where for other films, this has been more obscure. Actors have been meticulously chosen to resemble our heroes and heroines, as well as all the minor characters in between, ready for you to follow and become absorbed in their story or be distracted by pop up music performances and drag queens.
Secret Cinema has been underway since 2007 now, and as with anything, I’m sure its early adopters will decry the sky-high prices and expansion of its offerings to thousands of cinema-lovers at a time, moving too far away from its original, intimate concept of immersive, interactive cinema. However, having attended a number of their theatrical installation events – Star Wars, 28 Days Later, Blade Runner, and now Romeo + Juliet – I’m prepared to stand up to the critics and argue that though the larger scale of their events has some downsides – not least, the queues for everything from entry to food – in their case bigger really has meant better.
Perhaps it’s also something to do with the cult following the brand now has. In the same way as attending a thousands-strong concert of your favourite band, there is something electric in sharing in a cinematic experience with other die-hard fans, totally committed to the event – from their costumes to bringing along poems and gift offerings to knowing every character and line from the original movie. Rather than being a nuisance in the way of your enjoyment, other guests become a valued addition, enriching the atmosphere and adding to the interaction with the actors.
On top of this, as more of our lives are lived through screens, social media and other forms of technology, there is something truly magical about this low-fi, analogue theatrical experience where phones are locked away and you’re asked to be fully present in another world, living out a story in real time with your friends and favourite movie characters for an evening. The ultimate antidote to an over-digitalised present.
My only request would be to urge Secret Cinema away from a tiered ticket structure: I don’t mind if some want to pay extra for some fizz and a comfy seat to enjoy a movie. But I believe putting a huge extra cost on some of the best moments of the overall immersive experience adds a layer of elitism and takes away from the camaraderie that we are all part of one larger experience that we can make as little or as much of as we please.
That aside, if you’re a fan of this classic movie, the 90s, or even just having a wild outdoor festival experience that brings together the best of theatre, film and music whilst wearing your most flamboyant Hawaiian shirt, this Secret Cinema experience is for you.
Top tips: arrive early, don’t hold back on fancy dress, interact with the actors as much as you’re inclined in your best Shakespearean tongue, but most importantly, don’t worry too much about what you see and don’t see – just get swept up in the story and party like it’s 1996! Oh, and bring something to sit on and a waterproof in case of rain. However good this summer is, it’s still the UK after all.
By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 22nd August 2018.
Photos: Camilla Greenwell/ Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Secret Cinema Presents William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet is on until 25th August. For further information or to book visit the website here.