Secret Cinema: A review (contains spoilers)

When the Secret Cinema tickets for Back To The Future were released on 5 June, I jumped at the opportunity. Too much so, some might say. I bought six tickets for 7 August, not knowing who might want to come along.

I told a few friends about it, and my other five tickets were snapped up quickly by some truly lovely friends.

My anticipation built throughout June and July. There were a few articles about the event which I tried hard to avoid. And then there was the hoo-ha surrounding the cancellation of the first four screenings. Rumours abounded that this was owing to a lack of sign-off from the local council.

The first showing eventually went ahead on Thursday 31 July, and again, I tried to steer clear of people’s feedback and reviews. Further showings took place throughout that weekend, and next would be our turn, on Thursday 7 August.

We were told to arrive at Hackney Wick station at 5.45pm. For the evening, I took on the persona of Charles “Chuck” Penland. And I was accompanied by Patricia “Patsy” Lott, Bruce Wilson, Jason Cooper, Alicia Butler and Treva Guill.

Our party convened, all coming via Stratford, and we were then asked to walk past the Olympic Park. Back up towards Stratford. Well that’s all rather odd.

We climbed the hill and could see a Ferris wheel off to the right. We were made to discard/drain water bottles (safety or revenue?), and then had to hand in our mobile phones. Yikes!

We then climbed the hill further, passing Otis Peabody’s farm, complete with goats, and some of the Hill Valley residences – single storey temporary dwellings with artificial lawns out front, complete with sun loungers, mailboxes and acting occupants. One such occupant used his American accent to express confusion when I changed my socks on his front lawn, using his sun lounger to sit on. (My socks that day sported a logo on one side only, and I had donned them that morning with the logos facing one another. Upon discovering this, they simply had to be switched.) All very amicable; but the pretence was impressive and fabulous. I apologised, we shook hands and we were on our way.

We picked up some drinks and walked in, to be presented with the town square: a full-size 1955 town square. The centre was carpeted in a lush, thick artificial grass with a picket fence around the edge. And it was enclosed by a road, with zebra crossings to the shops around its perimeter. Across the full width of the square at the far end was the Department for Social Security, complete with clock tower. In the centre of its façade was a huge cream rectangle, onto which the movie would be projected. Across the back edge of the square was Lou’s Diner, where you could pick up some dinner.

And down either side of the square were shops and outlets, included Bank of America, a Texaco garage, a barber’s shop, a comic store and a record store. Down the right-hand side was Hill Valley High School. And off the rear corner of the square was Hill Valley Fair, complete with a Ferris wheel, one of those rides where you swing around on seats connected precariously to the top with chains, more food stalls (including a converted American school bus) and lots of funfair-type activities. It was 6.30pm. It was 25C. And the place was magical.

After setting out our stall (picnic blankets) on the square, which was already busy and buzzing, we went off exploring. We had a little dance to a live band at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. We rode the Ferris wheel while ’80s music piped out across the square, a picture-postcard deep amber sun dropping through the horizon off to the west (as is its wont). We even noseyed around the lockers in the school, which were rich in detail, including half-completed math(s) homework.

A postman stopped us asking whether we knew a Susan Smith, as he had a letter for her. Marty McFly himself wandered around in a red life vest looking dazed and confused.

And then we settled down on our blankets, ready for the film to start. There were some announcements from the stage in front of the clock tower from the mayor. A little live music, and some health and safety announcements from the local police. No jaywalking was the big one. He wasn’t joking. Cars would be travelling around the square’s roads during the performance, and so we weren’t allowed outside the picket fence, unless escorted across a zebra crossing.

And then all went dark.



The cheer was enormous. As if the prelude wasn’t enough, the main event was about to start.

As you’ll be aware, the film itself is fabulous. But this was no ordinary film. The film played in its entirety. And key moments of the film were reenacted around us. Marty skated round the square while clinging to the back of a truck. The DeLorean reversed out from the huge doors beneath the clock tower, engulfed in steam. The Libyan terrorists drove in from one corner of the square in a Volkswagen Type 2 to shoot Doctor Emmett Brown. The DeLorean hit a speed significantly less than 88mph and disappeared in a cloud of smoke. The timings were utterly impeccable. The illusion was magnificent.

The fight scene took place in the diner. Marty stepped over Biff’s moving car, skateboard in hand, and carried on boarding on the other side. It was all utterly brilliant.

And then, the finale. Doc Brown appeared way up high, clinging to the clock face. Our actor couldn’t see the screen. Yet his every movement mirrored that of his on-screen namesake. It was clear that he was tethered in place, yet his actions put the fear of God up the audience. And yes, he zip-wired down to the roadside to make sure the cable was connected ready for Marty’s arrival in the DeLorean.

The whole evening was utterly epic. The shops. The atmosphere. The short queues for food. The feeling of not being ripped off. The unbelievable sunset. The perfect ball of fire touching the horizon seen from up high on the Ferris wheel. The tropical temperatures. The car chases. The lockers. The cheering. The music. Oh God the music. The fabulous faux-American accents. The lack of mobile phones. The laughter. The five hours of constant, ear-to-ear grinning. The professionalism. The attention to detail. The relentless attention to detail. The synchronisation. The value for money. The actors. The square. The spectacular last scene. The friends.

I had massive expectations of Secret Cinema. Those expectations were not met. Instead, they were blown out of the water. Fabien Riggall clearly stretched his dreams way further than they’d ever been stretched before. But he pulled it off. He so pulled it off.


2 Responses to “Secret Cinema: A review (contains spoilers)”

  1. Mel on March 24th, 2015 23:42

    If anyone who has attended the secret cinema would like to fill out my dissertation survey, I’d be eternally grateful. Literally takes 2 minutes. Thanks guys

  2. Dan on March 25th, 2015 11:44

    Done. 🙂

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