“Who’s up for some POETRY??” I yell, my voice hoarse and drowned out by the pattering of water, the buzz of neon and the shouts and laughter of the crowd around me.
My audience? A dismal gang of begoggled (but sadly, not bedazzled) Replicants, scavengers and other riff-raff, dredged up by an oddly tattooed man determined to test my credentials as a self-proclaimed performer.
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With the flickering street signs burning my eyes and my stomach twisting inside me, my mind races. Would it be worse to make a run for it, like an actual child, or actually try to conjure some 2019-style neo-poetry from thin air? Why hadn’t I just said I was a dancer? And how on Earth (or the off-world colonies) had I ended up in this bizarre situation in the first place?
Well, dear reader, it’s because I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe – unless you’re familiar with the work of Secret Cinema, in which case, well, it’s to do with that.
Over the last few years the group have made a name for themselves in creating immersive, interactive worlds around the screenings of popular films, previously recreating Back to the Future’s Hill Valley and Star Wars’ Tatooine and now turning their attention towards the rain-drenched, neon-soaked and, er, Perspex…dunked world of Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic Blade Runner (having previously done a smaller version in 2010).
In seeking to review the latest experience I found myself in the persona and glowing facepaint of Ludo, a fleeing Replicant performer looking for work, accompanied by a friend who (rather irritatingly) had been given a much cooler backstory as a hard-nosed PI looking to solve the mystery of his missing family. He was told to bring a notebook to jot down clues – I was advised to prepare a song or dance routine.
I’m not bitter.
Anyway, without giving too much away about the experience (they’re keen for us to keep the titular Secrets of the aforementioned Cinema), individual quests for my friend and I led us around the steamy alleyways of 2019 LA, where we tracked down suspected criminals, gorged on themed food and drinks and admired the performers as they gamely stuck to their hard-won American accents.
Normally I struggle to play along with these sort of things (I can never stop thinking of a South Park episode where a museum of farming life is robbed and none of the historical “farmers” will break character), but that night I was game. And after a few interactions with them, I’ll admit it – I was getting cocky.
The night began strongly when one local gave me the hard sell over some Scotch, leading me to knock it back (well, almost) in one and saying “damn good Scotch” in an American accent, like in films. And I was just getting started.
“I’m upset because the neon leaked out of my see-through umbrella handle,” I told one informant sadly, before handing her some printed out pictures of my screaming face for payment (I was asked to bring headshots, but thought it would be better to give out photos nobody would be tempted to keep).
“Truly, these are the pitfalls of living in a dystopic alternate near-present world like the one we find ourselves in.”
And as I sauntered away to the next adventure, it hit me – as a TV and entertainment journalist, my art was in words. Why couldn’t Ludo’s be the same, as the greatest performance poet 2019 had ever known? After all, I was clearly killing it in these off-the-cuff interactions, and I’d been dreading the inevitable “make Huw dance” segment of the evening that would come thanks to my performer identity. Surely these trained actors and improvisers would be floored by my ability to spit verse instead?
So that’s how I found myself stranded in front of a crowd, cheap facepaint trickling down my face as I begged the muse for meaningful, moving words straight from the heart of a tortured artificial soul.
Of course, Blade Runner had given me something of a playbook for this very situation, with the original film featuring one of the most famous and moving monologues in cinematic history. Largely written by actor Rutger Hauer, the last words of Replicant Roy Batty have been etched in the minds of audiences for generations, their elegant simplicity elevating the movie to masterpiece status.
Here’s what he came up with:
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.
And with that as a benchmark, here’s more or less what I whipped up (as far as I can remember it).
A snake’s head, through the misty sky
A metal man who’ll never…die
A hand bursts through the smoking… smoke
A laugh unsaid, unfinished… joke
Words that, I’m sure you’ll agree, will also stand the test of time.
It didn’t occur to me until much, much later that I could have just recited an existing poem that I already knew. Or that, if I’d just performed The Robot, I’d have been making a hilarious and topical joke that literally nobody could dislike.
Instead, I was left to enjoy the sight of several twenty-somethings in homemade cyberpunk gear shuffling away embarrassedly, while my tattooed guide looked at me with oddly sad eyes.
“We’ll work on that, yeah?” he said, more kindly than he’d spoken to me that night. “We can work on your poetry.”
Happily, though, that wasn’t necessary, as after a few more dead ends (and, admittedly, a lot of awkward loitering – Secret Cinema always seems to involve a lot of standing around and wondering what you’re supposed to be doing) we were taken through to the screening proper, where we watched the film while some of the actors re-enacted key scenes around us.
And after being spat back onto the mocked-up mean streets of LA, I had my verdict. Secret Cinema’s take on Blade Runner isn’t their most ambitious effort yet (that’s probably still Star Wars), but it certainly felt like their most immersive. I didn’t even think my impromptu poetry slam was a particularly weird experience until about two days later, which probably gives a good account of how drawn into their heightened world I’d become.
Throughout the night it was nigh-impossible not to be pulled into interesting and overlapping storylines, even those we weren’t intending to follow (we got roped into a slavery scam and a riot at different points), and the missions we were given were much more fun and involving than on previous Secret Cinemas I’d attended.
With that said, the night did also fall into the usual traps of the other Secret Cinema events I’d been to in the past. After about an hour or so we slightly ran out of enthusiasm for exploring the well-created world around us, and struggled to fill all the time before the screening began. And while we had free food and drinks provided to us, the prohibitive expense of both for most punters – especially considering the high price of the basic tickets, which run from £45 to £175 (the upper echelons including some food and extra experiences) – might give pause for others looking to indulge their celluloid cravings.
(I should probably also note here that in true Replicant style, I might have had an artificially enhanced experience throughout the night, having been given a glowing orb to wear at all times that identified me as press and likely earned me a little more dedicated attention from the performers.)
When it came to the screening itself I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the film, having only rewatched it a few weeks ago and been concerned about another few hours working my way through it again. It actually ended up being the most I’ve enjoyed watching Blade Runner in years, even though the seating was very cramped and I spent around 80% of the running time shifting my legs from one side to another (and rubbing up against people I assume are now lifelong friends in all the seats around me).
Still, if you’re willing to take the hit on your wallet and kneecaps and you love Blade Runner, Secret Cinema’s latest experience might just be the night out you need.
Just follow three pieces of friendly advice. Bring an umbrella (seriously, you’ll thank me later), don’t forget your backstory and above all, don’t pretend to be a genetically engineered super-poet from the future – no matter how much sense it makes at the time.
‘Secret Cinema presents Blade Runner – The Final Cut: A Secret Live Experience’ runs until May 31, tickets from £45 plus booking fee