Welcome to Starcourt Mall for the Hawkins High School Reunion, coinciding with the mayor’s 4th of July Fair. Catch up with your classmates, eat, drink, dance and please ignore the slightly odd things that start happening around you. Why do the lights keep flickering?
This is Secret Cinema Presents Stranger Things, a different take on the Secret Cinema experience. It’s got all the interactive, immersive elements you’ve come to expect from Secret Cinema, but instead of settling in for a film screening you get… well, I can’t tell you what happens because…
But I can tell you that the setting is the 1980s and if you love Netflix’s Stranger Things you’ll spot a few familiar faces (and a few iconic moments) in the crowd. It turns out the town of Hawkins is actually even weirder than you already thought it was.
The production values of Secret Cinema are what make it stand head and shoulders above other immersive events (which are generally my worst nightmare). The actors involved do a great job of keeping you engaged and guiding you through the experience – which must be a tough job as the night goes on and the drinks keep flowing and the crowd gets louder. The actors have been cast for their remarkable resemblance to the characters who you’ll instantly recognise. The Secret Cinema creative team have taken inspiration from all three seasons of Stranger Things (with a lot of focus on the third) to build a complete, immersive world.
And I’ll tell you, it’s an intense evening! Loud and fun, and not for the agoraphobic or those with social anxieties (there is a quieter space provided so you can chill out for a bit if it all gets too exciting). The crowd on the night I went were all enthusiastically lapping up the atmosphere. Starcourt Mall has spaces you’ll be familiar with (plus a MAC counter to get your make-up dialled up to 80s excellence, and a store selling merch for those last minute additions to your outfits). And there’s a photo booth you’ll find familiar too…
As you arrive you’ll get a chance to meet up with your fellow Hawkins High alumni (you get a “character” assigned to you with details – I was Bruce Milton from the class of ‘77). There are lockers available (you can’t take phones, food or drink in). And don’t stress about getting there, the secret London location is a quick walk (under 5 minutes) from public transport with team members all around to guide the way.
Getting dressed up is a big part of the experience and everyone was in their full 80s best – from yuppies to goths and clubs kids. I can’t really say much more from there without spoiling things – but there are multiple storylines you’ll get to follow at your own pace that will keep you hooked into the narrative all leading to a big finale.
Or you can just grab a drink, some food (including ice-cream from a certain much-loved establishment), have a dance, play some arcade games and soak up the vibes – it’s all up to you.
And it is interactive, the actors routinely recruited people to help them out (at one point I was running a stand while an actor was briefing some other guests on things going on in Hawkins) and the Chief-of-Police definitely has a thirsty fan-base!
As the night reached its climax things got really impressive. There are definitely some ‘how did they do that?’ moments.
At times a few of the excellent techniques felt a little over-used, but there were some amazing tricks combining choreography, stunts, magic, costumes and good acting. Like watching a horror or comedy at the cinema, the whole thing is amplified by the crowd.
I can’t say more without spoiling some of the surprises, but this is definitely a case of ‘the more you put in, the more you’ll get out of the experience’. Grab yourself an 80s outfit, jump into character and enjoy it all.
By Chad Armstrong
Secret Cinema presents Stranger Things runs (at a secret London location) till 23rd February 2020 ,Wednesday to Sunday every week. Get tickets from the Secret Cinema website.