I might be no stranger to Secret Cinema (I’m five instalments in, I believe) but I confess I am something of a Stranger Things newbie.
My experience of the smash hit 80s-set Netflix series has been brief, nowhere near the obsessive cult following it’s garnered from viewers. But it is to the credit of the incredibly designed and carefully-crafted immersive theatrical experience created by this round of Secret Cinema that it didn’t matter one jot.
This is one of the most successful of their series, second only to the epically-produced Blade Runner. Perhaps it was because the 80s-retro aesthetic was easily achievable for attendees, meaning that from minute one I felt completely transported to 1985 smalltown America. All the other fluorescent lycra- and shellsuit-clad guests, protagonists of their very own Truman show experience, were barely distinguishable from the actors playing out the story.
The converted warehouse interior was brilliantly transformed, with impeccable attention to detail in every neon sign and movie poster across the funfair, dive bar and shopping mall settings, complete with ice-cream parlour and space-invader games machines.
It also seemed they had reduced the numbers they allow in at any one time – in the past, however much one wanted one’s disbelief suspended, it was difficult to hold onto it while queuing to get through to the next area, queuing for drinks, queuing for food… This time round there were enough corners and activities for everyone to simultaneously enjoy their personal journey through the experience without illusion-shattering interruptions.
And who can deny how irresistible it is to throw yourself into the all-American ways of over-friendly welcomes? Enthusiastic well-wishes of “Happy Fourth of July!” greeted us from all sides as we entered the world of the series’ third season.
The actors milling through the punters bore an uncanny resemblance to the TV stars – and if you wanted to get stuck into following and even participating in their role-playing, there was more than ample opportunity. Equally, you could quite happily drift around, soaking up the atmosphere, having a boogie, stuffing yourself silly with fried chicken or playing funfair games, or simply seeing where you ended up without feeling like you were missing out.
And while usually it’s the pre-screening activities that one comes for, Secret Cinema ramped up their game for the show itself, pulling together highlights of Season Three rather than playing out a full episode. Without spoiling any surprises, the scale of its ambition was impressive, a full-360 viewing experience in a darkened hall with an innovative combination of digital and analog visual effects that straddled the space between theatre and cinema using lights, acrobatics and actor performances.
Whether or not you’re a Stranger Things obsessive, I can’t recommend this experience enough. It is still on the expensive side: ticket prices have crept up and up since the inaugural Secret Cinema outing in 2008. But more than ever, it feels worth it for a unique way to spend an evening. Everyone’s phones are locked away, every attendee is fully present in the moment and committed to an en masse, childlike game of make-believe. It is the perfect way to get off social media and out of the winter cold into another world for a night where your only worries revolve around solving the mysteries unfolding in 1980s Hawkins.
By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 9th December 2019.
Photo: Luke Dyson for Secret Cinema
Secret Cinema Presents: Stranger Things is on at a secret location in London until February 2020. For more information or to book tickets, visit Secret Cinema’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Stranger Things Series 3 here: