It should come as no surprise to hear that, 11 years into their reign as the top dog of London’s alternative night out scene, the people at Secret Cinema have gotten rather good at throwing a knees up.
Their last outing, in April, saw them bring Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner: The Final Cut, to a London warehouse, with replicants and fake rain. And now, in the midst of the great heatwave of 2018, they’ve given Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet the immersive extravaganza treatment, recreating the “Verona Beach” setting in a sprawling, 5,000 capacity outdoor setting.
Of course, this leaves the door open for catastrophe – on Thursday night the event was cancelled at the last minute due to flooding – but weather allowing, it provides the basis for a fine summer evening which embraces the obscene tackiness of the film, as long as you’re willing to part with a significant wedge of cash.
Like Luhrmann’s film, which brings Shakespeare’s romantic opus to 1990s Miami, this iteration of Secret Cinema is only linguistically Shakespearean. With Italian castles, mid-90s fashion and American food, it’s a world unto its own. It’s disorientating, sickly and delightful in equal measure.
At a glance, the crowd ambling towards the *redacted* location could be headed for any of London’s day festivals.
Almost all of the men are wearing Hawaiian shirts, partly in homage to the ones sported by DiCaprio and co in the film, partly because they’ve recently become a staple of every Londoner’s wardrobe. Some of the women sport angel wings, a la Claire Danes’ Juliet at that first party sequence; others don the leather chaps of the Capulets – a brave move given the temperature. Shout out to the stewards guiding punters to the venue unenthusiastically uttering their directions in Shakespearean jargon.
The organisers have asked us to keep mum about specific details, so I’m hesitant to say too much about the venue itself. But I will say that, amidst the main arena, which features a stunning replica of the Capulet Mansion, there are a number of fun installations – so be sure to explore the space thoroughly. It’s all very gram-worth, which makes it all the more unfortunate that you’re not allowed to use your phone in there. They are strict on this: stewards patrol the area throughout the film, telling people off and handing out grey baggies for the phone.
As is customary with this type of thing, there are dozens of actors on board helping attendees to get in the spirit. Each visitor is divvied up into the Montague and Capulet families, and they set-up the rivalry from the get-go, splitting the two groups apart, and encouraging animosity. The tribal vibe works well in getting people involved. It counteracts the negative impact of the excess space, which means less-enthused patrons will likely miss out on the immersive fun.
It’s amusing to see the varying levels of dedication on show here. It’s easy to tell the R + J Stans amidst the ennui-drenched, deep-pocketed Londoners just looking for a novel way to glug some alcohol in public. The atmosphere is no worse for the presence of either, though: a young woman dressed as the fishbowl (!) through which the titular lovebirds see one another from the first time makes herself known at that moment during the film, drawing a roar of approval from the crowd.
One of the only real faults in the set-up are the the gargantuan queues, which means 40 minutes of my night are spent waiting on a disappointing burger – I would recommend eating beforehand to get the most out of the experience. Drinks queues are long, too, but not as devastatingly so.
The screening is preceded by much activity on-stage, as characters from the film – minor and major – come up and strut their stuff to some ’90s gems from the soundtrack (like The Cardigans’ banger Lovefool), before the rivalry between audience members is brought to a glorious crescendo.
And then, there’s the film, which thanks to the incredibly fresh-faced Leo and some top-level sass from Mercutio ( Losts’s Harold Perrineau), is an 11/10.
Secret Cinema presents William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet runs from 8-25 August. Tickets are available here