When I found out Secret Cinema presents Stranger Things was hitting a secret London location I was super excited and also very intrigued. This was Secret Cinema’s first venture into TV, which is no surprise considering how cinematic and popular the ‘80s-inspired horror series is. But without an actual film to screen what would the evening hold?
Launched in 2007, with over 70 productions to date, Secret Cinema has revolutionised the way audiences experience culture, nightlife and film. Creating secret worlds from grassroots film screenings in abandoned London buildings to large scale productions in vacant and abandoned spaces, the boundaries between performers and audience, set and reality, are constantly shifting. These experiences explore one of the forgotten pleasures in a time with constant access to information: secrets. Fusing film, music, art, theatre, and dance, Secret Cinema creates unique spaces for social encounters, adventures and discoveries where films come to life; it satisfies a desire to fill the void left by an over-saturated technological world.
As VIP’s we were given journalist roles to play and on arrival were ushered past the queue into Starcourt Mall, and guided into The Hawkins Post where we were handed our HNN media press pass. Here the suited up Editor-in-Chief briefed us on our evening’s work, to find as many stories and strange goings-on as possible and report them…my mission: to be the top reporter! Part of me didn’t have a clue what was going on, the other part already loving this secret 80’s world where everyone had either big hair, neon leg warmers or double denim.
I was immediately impressed with how much thought had gone into crafting this experience. Recognisable locations and characters from the show had been recreated to perfection. There was so much to take in and I didn’t want to miss out on anything.
It’s the Fourth of July and the town of Hawkins, Indiana is hosting the biggest high school reunion party of all time. Mulleted and dolled up in their shiniest ’80s threads, the students have gathered at the neon-drenched Starcourt Mall to shop, stuff their faces with Scoops Ahoy ice cream and party the night away. But in the darkness on the edge of town, something wicked is lurking…
It wasn’t long before we were approached by some party goers who wanted us to help them report some suspicious going-on live on TV. So at the local TV station, I took my role as a reporter to a new level, as I interviewed a group of friends about the disappearance of their friend. (Could this be a new career I thought to myself as the camera lights shined in my eyes!)
The longer you are in Hawkins, the more you begin to believe that this is real life – an alternative world where everyone is super happy. Especially after the Long Island Iced Teas, topped with a giant cola bottle have kicked in. It’s up to you how involved you get as things in strange happenings start to bubble up in Hawkins. Low-key fans can watch the drama from a distance, knocking back a couple of beers in the bar or sampling the delights of Scoops Ahoy.
After a couple of hours, this is when things get dark. Normally, at this point, you would watch the screening of the film, but Secret Cinema presents Stranger Things is different. Party-goers are directed into a large dark room which provides a theatrical mash-up of the Stranger Things story so far, and its Secret Cinema’s most ambitious finale yet.
Working in Television production myself, I was amazed by the scales of its ambition and superb casting. This is a full-360 viewing experience in a darkened hall with an innovative combination of digital and analogue visual effects that straddled the space between theatre and cinema using lights, acrobatics and actor performances. Truly amazing.
At the end of this fantastic evening, after exiting Hawkins and re-entering the wet London chill, reality takes some getting used to. Even though three-and-a-half hours have passed, it’s hard not to yearn for another Hawkins reunion.
My advice for prospective visitors would be to fully immerse yourself in the experience and to make sure you interact with as many characters as you possibly can. That is the best way to ensure you don’t miss out on any side stories that are played out throughout the event.