After one week of cancelled
shows, and months of delectable PR tidbits that rendered Secret
Cinema — well, not so secret after all — Back To The
Future was open for business on 31 July following its
The hitches that saw hundreds of disappointed fans turned away
at the last minute last week have remained undisclosed, and were –
as far as we could tell — nowhere in sight on the night. It’s
probably the only secret Secret Cinema has guarded so closely.
Because most elements of the performance were well and truly
outed in the months leading up to the most ambitious production the
interactive group has put on to date.
There has definitely been a concerted push to get the ticket
sales a production of this scale would need to support itself. By
now we’re used to knowing the name of the film to be shown. But
generally the location and set would be kept schtum. Then came the
news that the whole of Hill Valley would be recreated for the event. Cue mass hysteria and an unfortunate website crash. Then in the proceeding weeks we
learnt about the Hill Valley paper, its radio station and telephone network. We
knew there would be livestock, and the pop-up stores that appeared
on Hackney Road were precursors to what 1955 Hill Valley would look
like on the night.
Then came a photo of the whole darn set, an aerial shot that
gave away any inkling of pretence.
Apparently, the 3,500-person crowd that flocked to the event in
east London last night, paying £53.50 each, were unperturbed.
The general consensus so far, seems to be that it was a hit.
Bar a Future Cinema screening of Ghostbusters, I had
never been to a Secret Cinema production. It was always an
experience I was anxious to have and sure I would love. Which is
why I was surprised to come away from the night, a bit flat. It may
be that the experience was already — like the press in the run-up
to launch night — overhyped in my own mind. But I must say, I
didn’t totally get it.
The acting was hilarious/engaging when you came face to face
with one of the ensemble cast that committed to their role. But
these experiences were few and far between, unless you wanted to
pay for something. Because Hill Valley town was, to me, a vast
collection of commercial exploits. $22 for a haircut at the
barbers, $5 to make a corsage out of arts and crafts fabrics for
the school dance and $1.80 for an artisanal chocolate truffle
(okay, it was delicious, but really?) You will note I have not
converted the prices, because to add insult to injury, we didn’t
even get to take advantage of the strong sterling. They said
dollars — they meant pounds.
Everywhere you looked, someone was trying to sell you something,
and not an experience. The fact you had to choose a 5.15pm, 5.30pm
or 5.45pm slot to arrive (being a total novice, I assumed we had to
adhere to this) meant everyone had a good three hours in which to
do nothing but wander around and spend. The film did not begin
I did rather enjoy a tête-à-tête with Peabody’s twin daughters
down at the farm, and everyone loves goats so that was great. And
of course, with 3,499 people to contend with, you get out what you
put in here — go up and talk to as many actors as possible if you
want to get the most out of it, to grab the sense of adventure that
brings you to Secret Cinema in the first place.
But for me, the best moments were when that 3,500-person crowd
was brought together for the one main reason they were here — to
celebrate a film they love. So when we were finally gathered
together in front of the town hall, and the mayor took to the stage
to welcome us and start the parade, the experience came alive. This
is what we were waiting for, an inkling of interaction. Of course
that was largely reserved for the people that volunteered to be
part of the parade — the rest of us watched. But when the live
band struck up, dressed in their best for the Hill Valley
Enchantment Under The Sea dance (or “rhythmic, ceremonial ritual”,
as Doc would put it), we all leapt up to bust out some 50s moves as
the sun set. It was probably one of the best moments of the
That’s not to say that the performance itself was not great.
Secret Cinema plucked out some of the highlights from the film to
recreate in dramatic fashion in and around the crowd. It was
impressive, but I’m probably alone here in saying the side-stage
antics were a bit of a distraction to the actual film (which is
great, obviously). I’m not totally sure I need to see two men shout
the exact same lines we are seeing uttered on screen, at the exact
same time, in the exact same clothes. But either way, they pulled
it off and introduced a series of great effects and crowd-pleasing
The whole thing also appeared to run without a hitch, despite
the anxiety of the past week’s mysterious delays. Yes there were
some epic queues to get into the set and for the 50s diner that
took central position opposite the town hall. And there was a
moment when two Doc Browns inadvertently appeared together in one
of the show’s most impressive pseudo-scenes. But these are all
It’s probably my own fault — I probably should have spoken to
more actors and paid for more things. When I walked into the travel
agency my character Yasmin worked at, I probably should not have
expected anyone to recognise me and not been suprised by the
bizarre “this-is-what-its-like-to-fly” demo (complete with airplane
seats) by a stewardess who appeared to have boldly commandeered my
place of business. I was probably expecting a greater degree of
one-on-one interaction than would be possible at an event of this
Although in a universe created just for us, where you have to
hand over your “communication devices” at the front door to keep
the pretence up, and yet there’s a queue across half the town for
the ATMs, something just does not feel right.
Then again, maybe the giant John Lewis sign behind the set was
putting me off and I need to up my imagination skills.