As a UK citizen, celebrating the Fourth of July at all feels strange, let alone in the middle of winter. But that’s what thousands of TV fans are doing each weeknight at a converted warehouse in east London as part of the latest instalment of Secret Cinema.
Since its inaugural outing back in 2008, the immersive theatre experience has been giving film fans the chance to step into their favourite imaginary worlds, for real. Each year, the productions have grown in size, from a teeny tiny version of The Warriors in a London park to last year’s spectacular reimagining of Blade Runner. Now, they’re adapting one of the world’s biggest TV shows, Stranger Things.
From the first moment that you rock up at the Netflix sci-fi series’ Starcourt Mall, you know you’re in for a good time. Meticulously designed, right down to the lettering of the neon sign, it’s enough to make you think you’ve actually just arrived in Hawkins circa 1985. Once you’re through the door, it only gets better.
Dunked into the spunky, carefree ‘80s of Stranger Things’ era, you’re immediately surrounded by season three’s Independence Day celebrations. Whitney Houston blasting on the stereo, appropriately loud, fuzzy hair blocking your view, luminous spandex clothing covering everybody in sight – this is how you throw a properly retro party. Not a fan of the show? Slosh back a few drinks at the fair, then guzzle down a tasty hotdog or two and you’ll feel right at home.
Twisting through the crowds in the mall, you’ll probably spot a few familiar faces too. We won’t spoil who crops up here, but most of your favourite AV Club members are milling around. Dotted about the Scoops Ahoy ice cream parlour, Palace Arcade or grungy dive bar, the show’s characters joke and bicker with each other while you watch on. Keen to get involved? Every actor has been instructed to chat with the punters as much as possible. Be careful though – go too method and you might find yourself whisked off to less desirable quarters where an old enemy reappears…
As is the way with Secret Cinema, most of the fun is had prior to the screening. Stuffed with incredible sets and remarkable lookalikes – seriously, some of the actors are identical to their shaggy-haired on-screen counterparts – this version of mid-western suburbia is a lot more poppin’. Who knew the ‘80s could throw such a sick party? (Reader, we did)
After the first couple of hours, everyone is shuffled into a huge, dark room with raised platforms around the sides that form a 360-degree stage. It’s time for the main event, which is ostensibly a supercut of Stranger Things’ three seasons so far. We won’t go into too much detail (spoilers!) but this is the most ambitious Secret Cinema production yet. Think mind-warping visuals, gravity-defying acrobatics and several sob-worthy moments. Fans of the show won’t be disappointed.
This is yet another success story for Secret Cinema and perhaps their biggest and best project yet. Moulin Rouge set a marker, Blade Runner brought special effects, Casino Royale was the grandest of the series. Stranger Things, however, focuses on the little things. Combining perfectly realised sets with intricate, personalised narratives for each ticket holder, Secret Cinema brings Hawkins’ Fourth of July bash to life in vivid detail. Even on a cold and wet night in December.
‘Secret Cinema Presents Stranger Things’ runs from November 2019 to February 2020