EVENT REVIEW: Secret Cinema Presents: The Empire Strikes Back

I’ll warn you now;  I have tried my up most to avoid any spoilers. Anything you may consider a spoiler was unintentional – let me know if you think something IS so it can be removed. Secret Cinema has added new dates for The Empire Strikes Back, see the end of the article for links and details.


Photographer Mike Massaro.

As some of you may have read in my last article, I spent Friday night at Secret Cinema’s The Empire Strikes Back immersive performance. Also mentioned was how their last event, Back to the Future, had made them about a thousand shed loads of money (official financial term, honest) and the moment I entered the London location on Friday evening, I immediately saw where all that money had gone.

Where as last year Hill Valley had the tinge of tacky and whiff of Secondary School theatre set to almost all the structures and the set dressing, I honestly felt like I was in a totally different place, it was (to use a terrible, terrible pun) out of this world.

My guest and I spent the night peeking round corners, looking through windows and walking down shadowy hall ways to find new and exciting things. I can’t reveal much to you about WHERE things are set but attendees can look forward to discovering more than one world in this Galaxy far, far away.

We had only been inside for a few minutes when I turned to my guest and told her that I already like this year’s offering from Secret Cinema much more than last year’s. Honestly, it was immediately better, and I’m talking “We’re still technically queueing up to get into the event” levels of immediate. I still have issues with the price of the tickets though, For £75, I would expect more to be included in the ticket price, everything inside will cost you extra, so make sure you have something to eat before going in as they WILL confiscate any food and drink you have before you go in.

If the tickets had remained at £55 I could almost see the price being worth the experience, but at £75 a pop (£55 for children) I kept on comparing the event to other tickets I could get for that money or less and feel I had paid a fair price. My guest and I mentioned to each other at various points in the evening that for the cost of the ticket we would expect the event to be a whole day thing or for all ticket holders to be given a couple of tokens that could be exchanged for food or drinks. I would, at this point, like to mention  that I was there to review the Secret Cinema event and as such my ticket price was covered but I viewed the evening as if I had paid. Having gone to Secret Cinema last year as a paying visitor made it easier to compare the two experiences.

Usually, when something almost niche like this starts up the ticket prices begin high and then, as they get more popular over time, the prices will fall. This would be because they are assured that tickets will sell and they will more than break even, they don’t have to worry about a performance under selling and seats not being filled.

Secret Cinema will have to do something pretty bad for people to stop going to their events, and this is AFTER all the problems they had last year, so why keep jacking up the costs?

I know I said earlier that I saw where last year’s profits had gone – with production levels much better pre performance and the atmosphere generated by the `location` sets being incredible – but I sincerely hope that next year we see a drop in the price.

Now I’ve spoken extensively about the cost of tickets let’s get back to the review.

Waiting in line will never be the same again.

Waiting in line will never be the same again. Photographer Olivia Weetch

I mentioned how things were different whilst we were still waiting to get into the main location, this is because we were only in a queue for all of five minutes (not even that).  The rest of the `waiting` time was filled up with characters ushering us along, with little moments where we get addressed by a commander, wandering through expansive hallways with every little detail brought into account (look for the calendar on the office wall, check out the safety signs, look at everything! Just because you’re not in yet doesn’t mean you haven’t already been plunged head first into the world of Star Wars)

Things were carefully thought out to make queuing to get in feel like a fun adventure in itself.

Even checking in our phones was kind of fun

Even checking in our phones was kind of fun. Photographer: Mike Massaro.

There was never a dull moment, my guest and I didn’t stop and rest at any point before the film started, there was too much exploring to do, too many things to see and characters to find and speak to.

It’s very hard to keep track of time once you’re in, I felt like we’d been there less than an hour before the ball REALLY got rolling and the crowd got hyped up (in the BEST and MOST EXCITING WAY POSSIBLE!) before getting moved through to where we would be watching the film.

I mean, I wish I could tell you what I saw. I really do. It was fun and exciting and a perfect way to up the game before the film. All I can say is that, when events start happening and you’re looking up – don’t stand under or just to the side of a walkway, or you won’t get to see much. But even with though that happened to me I still saw plenty, knew what was going on and enjoyed every moment of it.

Before all this happens, though, make sure you try and interact with the characters (and it may sometimes be hard to tell who to talk to, but others are very obvious) Last year my sister and I hardly spoke to any of the volunteers and when we did it was rather cringe worthy with their mock American accents and their over the top acting. Unfortunately at BttF the only film character we even caught a glimpse of was Doc Brown, from a distance, forget the chance of interacting with them. This was probably due to the wide, open space of the event and how it felt like half of London was there.

This time there was no awful acting and we got to spend a decent amount of time speaking with two of the characters from the film – I really wish I could say who it was because they really were on point and I want to give them the praise they deserve.

One thing I CAN openly praise Secret Cinema for is how easy it was for me to get something vegetarian to eat and my guest something vegan. I’m not just talking one place offering meat free goodies (or things that could easily have any animal products excluded when prepared for us). The range on offer was better than a lot of restaurants, the majority of the food also fit fantastically for the kind of setting the sellers were in.

And, ah! The vendors themselves! These people were NOT volunteers or characters for Secret Cinema but were all utter champs at playing along and keeping the atmosphere true to the event. We were even able to ask some of them for help when we were fulfilling a task set for us.

Food-wise, I can’t actually tell what is good to try, as the kind of food may give away the type of location it’s in (also I only tried one snack and nothing else) but I think it’s safe for me to recommend one of the cocktails; Spice Smuggler, for those of you older enough to drink and who do drink alcohol, is a real treat. Like, it was so good that I wish I can go and order it at a bar any time I want. If, like me, you’re a fan of food and drink with a spicy kick, get this cocktail – my guest and I both are and we were delighted. I tried another cocktail too, to see how they compare and actually really disliked it, it tasted like a kind of gross fruit punch and got worse the more I drank (which is usually the opposite with booze) plus, the bar tender didn’t add enough of the ingredients so the glass was half empty – for whatever reason he decided to use the dregs of a bottle of water to top it up, instead of one of the spirits or some juice, so that could have been why it was kind yuck.

But yeah, The Spice Smuggler, I was dreaming of it when I got home. If anyone from Secret Cinema is reading this, please give that drink to other bars so I can have it again.

Photographer: Paul Cochrane

Photographer: Paul Cochrane

Now, I would say that overall the evening was a success and we really enjoyed ourselves, but there are a few complaints:

  • You can’t use cash – everything was either card or contactless. Not a major thing but it does mean that if you’re under the age where you can have a card you’ll need to stick by someone who is.
  • It was SO VERY HOT AND HUMID! If you’re going in costume avoid layering up or wearing materials like wool. We were in very light cotton tops and were dripping with sweat.
  • Don’t expect the level of pop out scenes DURING the film as there were last year. There are a couple, not very many, some easily miss-able. One pop out scene during the film is pretty thrilling though.
  • If you head to the station in London where you’re supposed to meet up and be shown the way to the event, don’t stand in one place by the exit you’ve been told to stand at. We arrived at 5.30, stood there for about 25 minutes and then wandered around a building and across the road – which is where we found the guide who told us where to go. Said guide was not where we were told to be!
  • If you have hayfever or allergies to things like dust, or even if you have asthma, take care! I ended up having to avoid a certain area because every time I went there I couldn’t stop sneezing.

I look forward to finding out what next year’s film will be (and then hint heavily at the Geek Syndicate editors that I would like to review Secret Cinema again…) as we were leaving my guest and I were discussing what we would like to see done and we both decided that a Lord of the Rings event would probably kill us from sheer joy.

Now, on a little side note…. If someone from Secret Cinema DOES read this article (or at least read this far) I don’t suppose someone can get me the name and number of one of the volunteers? Long hair, beard – I think he was a red head – was an usher (?) in the screen near the end of the film.

What can I say? The Empire Strikes Back has a rather romantic tone to it, I can’t be blamed for trying!



May the Force be with You, Nerf Herder out!

‘SECRET CINEMA Presents STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK runs now until 27th September 2015 www.secretcinema.org/tickets

GS BLOGGER: Fia / @madame_ fifi

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