Secret Cinema’s latest event – based around the 1985 hit ‘Back to the Future’ – is their biggest yet. But will its enormous popularity also be its downfall? Alex Plim put on his 1950s threads and joined the party to find out.
It started badly when Secret Cinema had to cancel the first four nights of its ‘Back to the Future’ event. Then, once their largest ever production finally got underway on Thursday, there was a moment when it felt like the whole thing might crumble. The actors who mingle with the crowd, now tasked with keeping clear a stretch of tarmac filled with giddy Londoners who just wanted to shout ‘Great Scott!’ at one another, started to struggle. Their whiny American accents slipped. Chirpy personas were ditched. And their exasperation at having to control such an enormous number of people suggested that Secret Cinema might have stretched itself too far.
Frankly, it’s amazing it took this long for anyone to start getting cranky. Tickets for the production – which transports the audience to the 1950s setting of ‘Back to the Future’ – cost more than £50, and the first thing you experience is what it felt like to join a thousand other people in a queue in 1955. (Spoiler: it’s no more fun than in 2014.) The intensely personal and participatory experience that characterised Secret Cinema’s earlier productions has given way to a shitload of folks in fancy dress standing in a line.
But Secret Cinema has more than enough ambition to take on the challenges delivered by its skyrocketing popularity. This is a production on a scale far beyond anything the outfit has attempted before. An entire small American town has been recreated, complete with a working post office, radio station and telephone exchange. There are places you can eat, drink and dance. There are houses where you can nose through someone’s drawers, and there are rafts of actors floating about trying to spark up a conversation with any poor sucker who makes eye contact with them. (You’ll try desperately to avoid them, but they’ll get you in the end.)
Secret Cinema has always taken itself very seriously, but the secret to their success is having an audience who take the whole thing just as seriously. A fully functional 1950s American town in the middle of east London is impressive, but filling it with 3,500 film nuts is something else entirely.
The open-house vibe is brought to a close eventually and audience members are herded into the town square for the screening itself. This was when the night hit its stride. SC’s team of actors keep the show going by performing iconic scenes alongside the film, bringing the whole thing vividly to life and whipping the audience into a crazed sea of whoops and whistles. You can try, but it’s impossible not to grin like a nutter when the DeLorean makes its first appearance shrouded in dry ice, or to scream ‘1.21 gigawatts!!!’ as a demented Doc Brown sprints across the tarmac, arms raised and hair splayed in a bedraggled mess behind him.
By the time the night ends you’ll have forgotten about all the selfies you could have taken and the #nofilter opportunities missed thanks to the organisers’ ban on mobile phones, and it’ll seem completely surreal to see a tube carriage full of dressed-up hipsters checking their updates. But then you’ll realise that this is Secret Cinema’s final trick, and that the show still isn’t over – as you sit there reading about the night you’ve just had on Twitter, you’re just imitating Marty McFly by going back to the future you just came from.
See a more pictures of Secret Cinema’s ‘Back to the Future’.