In 'We Need To Talk About...', the new weekly column from NME's Jordan Bassett, J-to-the-B vents his spleen on the topical issues that matter the most (or the least, if it happens to be a slow news day). This week: why 'immersive entertainment', epitomised by Secret Cinema, which has returned with an experiential screening of 'Romeo + Juliet', is no match for a night down the pub
Wherefore art thou, good old-fashioned night down the pub? What ever happened to a few pints and shoving a quid in the itbox? Tell me: why do I have to dress up as Ace Ventura whenever I want a night out?
Secret Cinema, the cinematic phenomenon that kickstarted an apparently endless trend for elaborate immersive experiences across the country, is returning with a screening of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, which stars a young Leonardo DiCaprio and the excellent Claire Danes. As ever, attendees have been given instructions on the type of fancy dress they should wear, themed around the film, while actors will perform parts of the narrative and encourage you to get stuck in, before everyone sits down to enjoy the film. Last time around, back in April, punters navigated a rain-lashed, dystopian Blade Runner cityscape in a warehouse in London. This time around, Secret Cinema’s senior producer Andrea Moccia has promised “a spectacle of Hawaiian shirts, colour and happiness.”
Reader, since you didn’t actually ask, I will not be participating in this spectacle. Oh, hello there, would you like to swap 80 English pounds for the chance to slip on a Hawaiian shirt and watch a Claire Danes movie from 1996? No, thank you, my friend – I’m not a Tory. Oh, hello there, would you like to traipse through man-made rain in a warehouse in east London, dragging an increasingly heavy leather coat in the puddles behind you? I’ve said it before, my friend, and I’ll say it again: no thank you, because I’m not a Tory.
“A spectacle of Hawaiian shirts, colour and happiness,” says Andrea. Well, I mean, that does sound quite fun, actually, but no! We must not allow fun to stand in the way of principles. It’s like, do you know how many people were involved in the making of that movie and what a miracle it is that it came into existence? During the filming of Romeo + Juliet, the movie’s hairdresser, Aldo Signoretti, was kidnapped and the filmmakers had to pay $300 to have him returned. Aside from the fact that $300 is a surprisingly affordable ransom, that sounds like a stressful incident that Signoretti and the filmmakers overcame for you, for me, for everyone who ever loved the movie. Oh, but that’s not enough for you, is it? You can’t just watch the film – you want to be in it, too.
Founded in 2007, Secret Cinema ushered in an era of experiential entertainment – Blitz Parties; immersive theatre; escape rooms and The Tweed Run, which in May saw punters dress up in ye olde garb and ride vintage bikes through London – that just won’t die. “Hey!” my friend says, “would you like to dress up as a 1940s soldier and pretend we’re having a jolly old war-time knees-up? Ooh!” she adds, “would you like to come to Jason Orange’s brother’s house and talk to out-of-work actors for an immersive production of The Picture of Dorian Gray that’s being staged in the basement?” And I think: grow up, Rebecca, you’re 29 years old. Just go down the pub and have a Birra Moretti.
It’s not even just about the money. Yeah, Secret Cinema’s expensive, and there’s a financial threshold to cross before you can encase yourself in a tweed suit and pedal your vintage unicycle across London Fields, but you could easily drop 60 quid on six pints, a shit club and a doner kebab (that’s why everyone’s going to illegal raves these days). While experiential, organised fun is particularly pricey – at Secret Cinema the cost of entry is compounded by the cost of the costume, plus food and drink once you get inside – what irks about the phenomenon is fact way that it turns everything into a pompous pageant, a competitive parade for upwardly mobile millennials to prove how quirky they are.
With its expense, pomp and ceremony, immersive entertainment is an after-dinner speech at Chequers. It’s fox-hunting in the Cotswolds, it’s a jacket with tail-coats that make you look like the tin-pot dictator of a small island nation. It’s David Cameron at Wilderness festival, Theresa May and her weird ventriloquist dummy husband on Christmas Day and it’s, “Oh my God do you remember what Tom wore to the Winter Formal last year?” It’s jolly hockey sticks and derring-do and getting ruddy well stuck in.
And I know what you’re going to ask, so before you start – no, I’ve never been to Secret Cinema. I do like Romeo and Juliet, though. And Hawaiian shirts. And fun. Damnit – my three loves sprung from my only hate.