Since all the shows are now complete, here’s the second part of my Secret Cinema experience. If you missed the first part, you might want to read it here. Are you ready to go back in time?
And so we left our hotel room. Dressed up in our 1955 get up it took a certain level of bravery to walk through the hotel lobby. Gary’s outfit could have passed as fairly normal attire, such is the fashion at the moment, but mine not so much. At least we were in London, a place where alternative dress sense is embraced.
I can understand why people like to dress 50’s at the moment, it’s so darn comfortable. My Vivien of Holloway blue tartan skirt was a high-waisted circle of wonderfulness. It swished and swirled and showed off my hour-glass figure. I’ve been blessed with 34″ hips and a 28″ waist but can’t often show it off! I might never wear anything else. Anyway, I digress…..
We hopped on the underground from Canary Wharf to Stratford. A lot of people had been saying we should get off at Stratford and walk to the Olympic Park, where the event was being held, but we had been instructed to travel to Hackney Wick station where we would be directed onwards. At Stratford we were amazed to see masses of people in 50’s dress from all walks of life. There were farmers, businessmen, students, shop girls – and so much effort had been put into costumes. By the time we hopped off the train anyone wearing present day clothing was in a minority.
We were directed by American speaking Policemen, and as it turned out we just walked 15 minutes back to where we’d come from and towards Stratford. There wasn’t any need for this detour, other than I guess from a logistical aspect they didn’t want hoards of people arriving at Stratford station and marching through already busy areas of London. It was a lovely day and by now the sun was shining. It was quite windy but it being a warm wind, it was welcomed, and so it was a pleasant walk taking in the sights.
Soon, up ahead, you could see the big Department of Social Services building complete with clock tower and huge projection screen, a Ferris Wheel and hear 1950’s music playing.
We joined a fairly short queue to get into the complex and while we waited Cast members walked along the line, some high school girls and some bullies. At the gate we were welcomed to the Town Fair. Our tickets were scanned, bags were checked for food and then we had wrist bands attached. We were asked if we had ‘communication devices’ on us and our wrist bands were marked as stating ‘No’. Secret Cinema’s policy is ‘Tell No One’ with no cameras or phones allowed on site, or face ejection. You could, however, buy disposable cameras inside.
Once we’d been ushered through, we headed into The Peabody’s Twin Pines Ranch. We were immediately greeted by Mrs Peabody who grabbed hold of Gary and told him he was going to be baptised. He was sat on Otis Peabody’s knee whilst we stood in a circle around him, spoke an initiation prayer and then they rubbed water on Gary’s head as we shouted ‘Amen’. Then we did a little yokel jig and Gary was ‘branded’ with a big red P on his forehead and me on my arm (since I protested I didn’t want it on my head! Mrs Peabody was kind to me) It being standard paper stamping ink it took a good scrub to get it off!
And then we headed into Hill Valley. After a quick photo shoot
we wandered through the houses looking at the McFly, Tannen and Doc’s homes. A school bus drove to and fro collecting students, who had to show their student IDs to the school, whilst other classic cars picked people up and took them to various locations.
The atmosphere inside was brilliant. Because people had gone to such efforts on their costumes you couldn’t tell who was Cast and who was Guest. The stewards were all in costumes but wore red sashes so you knew who to ask if you needed help.
Different shop fronts were set up, and depending on what ID you’d been assigned you could head to your place of business, work or school and get assignments to complete. One such assignment for the Students included showing your ID at the school and being given work experience to head on over to the Realtor and sell someone a house.
And then you hit the town square, a square of fake turf in the centre of it all. People had already set up home with blankets and gotten comfy for the movie screening later, but we wanted to look around some more, there being around 3 hours until the film was likely to start. We headed over to the fun fair where a ferris wheel was spinning, there were games and other stands, and then over to the school.
The whole place was marshaled to perfection with Cast members making sure people were using the zebra crossings and not in danger from all the classic cars and vehicles moving around the square. Inside the school there were lockers where you could leave photos, ID cards and homework and then you entered the school hall which was set up for the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. A band stage set up at one end and a bar at the other, it was a classic school dance situation – meaning everyone was standing around the edge or at the bar, but soon in true Flash Mob style, people who had been standing at the sides began to swing dance to the music, one by one, and you realised they were Cast. By this time we’d already been interacted with by loads of cast members, one of whom came and spoke to us and turned out to be one of the principal dancers. Not long into the dancing they had a huge amount of people doing a choreographed routine in unison with them. It was a spectacle!
We headed out of the school (as we did a very shady and sweaty kid asked us if we’d seen Principal Strickland….) and found a spot on the green. Having seen some of the effects set up on our meanders we knew we wanted to be on the left and near the front and managed to get a good spot to set up. At this point Gary headed off to Lou’s Cafe to bring back some dinner.
A couple sat down next to where I was holding the fort, who it turned out later on were Secret Cinema veterans, and I noticed they’d been Peabody branded too. The woman showed me some sweets she’d bought from a concession seller – I’d seen them walking around with little boxes. Inside were two massive sugar-coated jellies, like pastilles, but flavoured with either Gin, Scotch and another I forget. I was told that if you ate three of these sweets you were over the drink drive limit – needless to say I decided to give those a miss!
Gary returned with some food, chips and an amazing burger (courtesy of Byron) and we sat and watched the world go by. In front of us Cast members walked around the town and interacted, Biff drove around in his car with his gang (who sometimes got out and talked to those sitting on the green), Doc and George appeared as well as lots of other principal cast. The Cast members walking around the square chatted to each other about homework, boys and general Hill Valley life as if this was where they lived, all in American accents, and totally oblivious to anything other than this world. And all this time a 1950’s Hill Valley radio station played from a shop front near by. 50’s hits, adverts and interviews . Postal workers ambled through the seated masses shouting out for people, and as it turned out some of these letters contained missions for the guests who had registered at their places of work. The ladies could sign up for Miss Hill Valley and join the upcoming parade, cheerleaders taught their cheers, tug of war competitions went on, fights ensued between cast members and were broken up with the Sheriff and his policemen. There was never a dull moment. And then all of a sudden Rapper’s Delight started playing. It was so strange hearing a different decade’s music and we all looked around really confused and then realised they were bringing in the 80’s aspect of Back to the Future.
Everyone was up and dancing whilst Biff’s gang ran around confused and 3D came past us asking ‘What’s going on?’ as bright lycra clad dancers and Adidas track suited break dancers streamed past. They took the dancing right on into the School where they joined the dance which was in full swing. Then they lead right back out and onto the school bus with loads of students and rode around dancing to the beats.
And then it was time for the Hill Valley parade. Cast and guests walked and drove around the square whilst everyone waved and cheered. It felt like you were really inside Hill Valley and in the 50s. Everyone was happy and relaxed and getting involved. Then the prom king and queen were announced and Marvin Berry and the Starlighters came onto the Clock Tower steps to perform (introduced by Marvin’s cousin Chuck) and everyone had a good dance. Then Marty came on and performed The Power of Love. The crowd went wild! But all of a sudden the sound distorted, chaos ensued on town hall steps and the screen came to life….. the movie was starting!
The Universal logo came on screen and everyone settled back into their spots on the green. Watching the movie was great. Everyone booed and cheered and really interacted. Cast members came out at various parts to act out the scenes in front of you, including one of the most important cast members – the Delorean! There were light effects, flashes and bangs, fire, stunts and lots of fast moving cars, along with some great projection effects. Pivotal scenes like George knocking out Biff and Doc descending from the Clock Tower re-connecting the cable were acted out to huge cheers and shouts. The crowd was so involved that even when Marty played Johnny B. Goode everyone got up on their feet again and danced like they were in the movie, whilst swing dancers boogied up on the steps.
Once the movie was over, the band came back out to do a couple of songs and then everyone started to leave, but first we lined up to collect our photo, our one pictorial memento from the day.
The whole thing was immense, immersive and totally worth all the effort. There were some people who just came in jeans and a t-shirt and must have felt out of place. I’m so pleased we dressed up and became part of the show. We interacted with so many of the cast too, they were working really hard to make sure everyone was involved. There was little need to bring all the extra bits that we’d been asked for (red sunglasses for girls, yellow for boys, a stop watch, photos, homework) but you were able to use them or not to be involved as little or as much as you’d like. We know there was stuff we missed out on. We didn’t go to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance proper, because we’d gotten our spot on the grass, we didn’t visit the Peabody’s ranch fair and we didn’t go into the indoor theatre. But it didn’t matter. Our experience was just that, our experience.
People moaned at a £50 ticket price, but honestly I don’t know how they can make a great deal of profit on that price considering what we’d seen. We left the site and felt sad that we had to come back to 2014, put on normal clothes and get plugged into the real world again. It had been lovely to leave my phone at the hotel, not take photos of everything and just rely on the memories of the day.
We came away bigger Back to the Future fans (not sure this was possible for Gary!) and huge Secret Cinema fans…. but shhh it’s a secret – tell no one.