Review of Secret Cinema, Spoilers Included

Update: After a few pieces of earnest feedback that I’m actually taking away from people’s experiences, I decided to alter the details of this post to exclude direct mention of the movie. Given the strong negatives of the overall experience, I feel like what movie it is doesn’t really matter. Still, doesn’t do to diminish someone else’s time. Fair warning: This post still contains details from the event that are pertinent for giving a coherent review. Some people may feel these details are spoilers. I’m including them not to be a jerk, but to be illustrative.

Wanted to offer some feedback about Secret Cinema from Friday, March 21st. This is my second Secret Cinema experience and I was really looking forward to it. My first was the Casablanca showing about a year ago.


Aspects of this Secret Cinema event were very good. I’ll just list them for brevity’s sake:

  1. Exploring the space was amazing. Every room was exquisitely detailed. The notion of serendipitous interaction with other people and actors is a brilliant idea that in some cases played out very well.
  2. Some of the actors were amazingly good. One actor in particular was a genuine pleasure to be in the presence of. My date and I lingered in his room for quite some time just watching him interact with people. So good.
  3. The court room scene was an unexpected and mostly fun experience.


That said, the were some extremely negative aspects of the experience. To be honest, the negatives of the experience so far outweighed the positives, I don’t think I’m likely to participate in Secret Cinema again. Especially considering that some of the negatives were consistent from my first time at Secret Cinema last year.

Mean “Actors”

When we arrived, we were greeted by someone who told us to go “over there” where a group of people were gathered, so that we could get our hands stamped. We were immediately asked to show our tickets by a woman patrolling the line. I had the email on my phone, so I started loading it. The person asking me was very abrupt with me. She then moved on to the next people in line. As the line moved towards the front, I was asked my last name, and had my hand stamped without ever seeing the tickets. Which begs the question — why was I questioned about my tickets if all that was needed was my last name? Also, while waiting in this line, a man dressed as a police officer swore at the people in line in front of us and told them to speak when spoken to. Okay, if this were a prison movie or if we were in character as suspects for something (or kidnapped people perhaps) that makes sense. However, if his character is an officer on the street and we’re upstanding citizens, what sort of behaviour is that? Just felt oddly mean and degrading for no clear reason.

When we entered the Chinese Laundry, we were greeted by a character who was to shepherd us into the underworld. This character was openly antagonistic. Beyond being a bad actor whose awkward Boston-meets-Chicago-meets-London gangster accent was painful, he seemed to be just indulging in the opportunity to swear at us without making it feel like a legitimate experience at all. The mismatch between what would have made sense and what he was doing was so conspicuous that it took away from the experience. If he had chosen to say nothing at all, the effect would have been more resounding and interesting.

Once we were inside, I was greeted by a tall guy in a dark suit and hat. He bumped into me from behind. I turned to face him and apologised, unclear at that point that this was his act. Face to face, he leaned in close and blew e-cigarette smoke in my face. I could smell his not-clean breathe and feel the moistness of it on my lips. Gross. He then said, “You want to make a hundred bucks?” Let’s take a step back and think about real life. Let’s imagine that we’re in the real world. I’m in a club. Some guy walks up to me, runs into me, blows smoke in my face, then asks me if I want to do work for him. How would I feel? I would feel like punching the guy. I would settle for getting away from him as quickly as possible because he’s a really unpleasant guy to be around. So, given that this is ostensibly play (though there was nothing playful about him blowing smoke in my face), I just said “No. Not remotely.” He looked at me disgusted, told me “You’re not going to have any fun around here,” and walked away.

Ironically, he was pretty much right. What he didn’t understand is that I already wasn’t having any fun. No aspect of the experience so far put me in a state of freedom to play. Nothing so far felt like there were safe bounds between reality and play and that we were all in this together. No, in fact the experience felt much more power imbalanced in favour of those who knew what was going on than those who didn’t.

Secret Cinema feels more like the Stanford Prison Experiment than a playful immersion in the world of the movie.

Sadly, the list of bad interactions keeps going.

At one point, we were all ushered into a real court room to witness a fake trial. I was grabbed aside and drawn into a room with a guy who told us to render “Not Guilty” no matter what in exchange for $500 bucks. This seemed like the moment to be playful for me. Getting to participate in an intense jury debate sounds fun. Sadly that wasn’t the way this worked. I was to do as I was told here. Being told what to do and when to do it is not fun. Then, in the court room one actor posing as a bailiff told us to stand in one place. Then another came along, swore at us, and told us to go stand somewhere else, asking who told us to stand there in the first place. Hilariously, it was his fellow actor. Being treated like dogs expected to roll over again and again is not fun.

At another point, we tried to go into a club but we were stopped at the door by an actress. She told us it was members only and that we couldn’t just walk in “unless we had something for her.” So, playing along, we offered her as much money as we had. Yet, it wasn’t good enough. She kept up the act of surly door minder to the point that my date and I just felt truly unwelcome and walked away. It wasn’t mean-with-a-wink, it was just mean.

Later, I was standing in one of the rooms and a guy walked in, pointed harshly at me, said, “You — come with me,” and stormed out. Not a chance in hell. By this point, I was so fed up with the experience that I would rather stand off with the guy right then and there than engage in any more “play.”

I can keep going, but you get the point. I’ll leave out the other court room bailiff who stopped us to extract a “jury fee” from us and all the other small interactions that were antagonistic by default. Why couldn’t actors just have interesting personalities? Why was aggressive, exploitive behaviour the default interaction with every person? Sure, the movie they showed was a gritty movie, but that doesn’t mean that every person you meet should treat you badly as the first note of the interaction. Also, the fact that everyone in the movie is a grifter is ostensibly a secret, so we should have had no idea why the hell everyone was being so abusive. The whole thing feels like an indulgent experience for the “actors” and an abusive experience for the attendees.

The most absurd reality of this is that I’m an extremely playful person. I love fancy dress. I love acting a fool and not taking myself seriously. I do a lot of public speaking and feel very comfortable in a semi-structured environment that is semi-contrived and semi-real. I was once kicked out of a public park with some friends for acting out Hamlet on the amphitheatre stage after the park had closed. For god’s sake, I went to Burning Man last year and had an amazing time. I also got really into this night. I rented an authentic 20s suit and followed all the procedures ahead of time. So did my date. I wanted to come and have an exciting and playful night. If someone like me can’t get into Secret Cinema, who the hell is it for? Who would have a good time?

Cellphone Confiscation

Ruined screen protector

Back at the start of the night, after getting our hands stamped, we walked to where we had to give up our phones for the evening. Part of my work is building systems that operate at all hours of the day on complex infrastructure. Sometimes systems break and I have to act quickly to figure out what’s going wrong. It makes me very uncomfortable giving up my phone because it’s my notification mechanism when things go wrong. Also, I use my phone as part of two-factor authentication to lots of systems. If they lose my phone, it would be more than a day of work to get things back in order, starting with buying a new phone and a trip to my service provider to get a replacement SIM. Not to mention the trouble it would be trying to get them to cough up the money for the phone later. Not remotely my notion of a good time.

So, I questioned their procedure, asking what assurance I have that they were going to do this correctly and not cause me tons of grief. The response I got was a compassion-less “We haven’t lost a phone yet. This is company policy.”

Interestingly, none of the information I was given ahead of time included an explanation that this would be required. I went back through every email and every web page I was directed to. No mention at all. If they had told me ahead of time, maybe I would have changed my mind about going. Maybe that’s their reasoning behind surprising you with it when you get there.

The guy taking my phone explained that I would be given a ticket that would allow me access to my phone at any point if I needed it urgently. Unhappy but not willing to end the evening five minutes into it,  I gave up my phone, took my packet and went inside.

At the end of the night, my date and I went to retrieve our phones. There was already a group of people starting to accumulate, but we were first in line. A guy still acting half-way in character took our ticket, radioed for our phones to be brought up then walked away. Minutes into this, with no more info about what was happening, one of the other people waiting had someone return with a satchel with his ticket’s number on it. The woman returning his phone peeked inside the bag and then asked him to describe his phone to her. This is their system. They decided that a number and a satchel was the correct way to do this. Interrogating people afterward is insane. If you take my phone from me and give me a reclamation means for it, I do not expect to also have to prove my knowledge of my own property. It also rang closely of being asked for my tickets at the entrance when my name was all that was required.

Being honest, I lost my temper at this. I spoke harshly to this lady. Something along the lines of “Just give him his fucking phone back.” Reasonably, he looked surprised. She looked antagonistic right back at me and told me this was necessary because they wanted to make sure people got their correct phone. I would argue that it’s complete bullshit and that they should come up with a more reliable system if they wanted to take ownership of tens of thousand of pounds of nearly identical devices. If I found any ticket lying on the ground, went to them, answered their question with “an iPhone,” I would have a super high likelihood of walking away with a phone that wasn’t mine. It’s a bad system at best. Also, when we got our phones later, they didn’t ask for a description. Arbitrary treatment where someone else has power over you and you just have to do whatever they cook up for you to do is not fun.

Around that minute, chaos ensued. A group of people down the hall had been setting up a table for returning phones to people. It was unclear who we should be talking to. It was also completely obvious that the organisers had done nothing ahead of time. They were sorting the phone satchels numerically while fifty-ish people stood and waited. This was around 5 hours into the evening. It didn’t occur to them to have this done ahead of time? That at the end of the movie people would want to leave? Or to make sure the phones stayed in order as they were collected? I cannot understand why this was an issue at all. Every coat check I’ve ever been to just gets this right by default.

The group of us waiting for our phone grew from the original ten, to fifty, to probably half of the people at the event. This is an interesting data point, because we were leaving early. As we walked out of the movie hall, multiple people told us to stay because there was a dance afterward. We didn’t exactly feel like dancing. When the credits rolled, I felt like I had put up with the fullness of the experience and, relieved, could now leave. Perhaps some of the more than a hundred people gathered in the hallway felt the same way.

So at this point we were waiting somewhere between the desk and the table (theoretically, our phones would come to the desk where the guy had radioed for them), we heard someone shouting “Over 200 on the right, under 200 on the left”. They were trying to partition a mob of more than a hundred of people *after* it had become a mob. Also at this point, despite having left early to get out before the crowd, my date and I were now swimming in a mob of people with no idea where our phones my show up — the desk where the guy had radioed or the table where the mob was looking.

We walked to the tables (where they were still shuffling phones while people waited) and asked. We were told to please wait in line. There were no lines, just two mobs of people running the length of the hallway now. I was feeling sort of apoplectic at this point so I just walked away. I would rather sit quietly somewhere than wait in an infinitely long line while they sort out something that should never have been a problem. My date was more persistent with the person holding back the mob, got a bit aggressive, and had our phones returned immediately. I feel bad that we jumped the mob. I feel like we got special privilege because we were rude, which is not something I ever want to be. This feeling is counterbalanced by the fact that we took special efforts to get ahead of exactly that situation and the incompetent handling of the situation ruined that and left us standing around with no notion of what to do until the situation was going to be a mess no matter what.

When we got back home, my date noticed that they had managed to scratch up her screen protector in the process of confiscating and returning our phones. No damage to the phone, fortunately, but it indicates that they weren’t going out of their way to take care of our phones.

In sum, Secret Cinema made for a bad evening. If I had it to do all over again, I would skip the event without batting an eyelash. I would have had more fun watching a lot of other movies alone.

47 thoughts on “Review of Secret Cinema, Spoilers Included

  1. Hi there Jackson. A really interesting article and review. I have seen that you are getting quite a lot of comments from SC regarding this post. As a veteran of 6 SCs as a paying customer I’d like to give you my point of view. Obviously you’re under no obligation to listen! Anyway I think the gripes that you’ve posted should be in the public domain even before the end of the SC run. When I go to SC I want to have the best experience possible and am going to 21 on Friday. The great thing about what you’ve written is 2 fold. Firstly it will make SC have to sort out the problems (such as phones) and secondly even if they have not sorted it out then I’ll know what to expect. Brilliant! I am personally not an SC attendee that minds finding out what the film is. Often I quite like finding out so I get a bit more context and look out for the little bits of detail before I’ve seen the film. However, I’d just like to ask you 1 question. Do you think that your article could have just as much impact (e.g getting SC to iron out the issues) without mentioning the film? Having read it a few times I reckon you could edit out the references to the film and still demonstrate you gripes to SC. Let me know what you think.

    Charlie Silver-Burr

    1. Fair points. I tweaked the title of the post to reflect that it contains spoilers so that others will know ahead of time that reading comes at cost to secrecy. My reasoning for being explicit about the information is that speaking about the movie indirectly takes away from the main points. If I just say the facts out right, it also allows me to be very detailed about the things I’m giving praise and complaints about. Like the character I think a given actor was portraying, for instance.

      Also, the response I’ve gotten from Secret Cinema has been mostly for their own benefit. I don’t get the impression that they actually care about the quality of experience someone had. They just want to quiet the message I’m sending. I don’t agree with their motives and so I’m not bending to their requests. I really appreciate the feedback. Let me know if you don’t think the post renaming is enough.

      1. Hi Jackson,
        I think what you’ve done is spot on. If I was a user that happened upon your website by accident then I have the choice now whether to carry on reading. If I do carry on reading and find out what the movie is then I’ve only got myself to blame.
        As I said in my initial post I think you’re more than entitled to air your issues. Would you mind letting me know what the excuses from SC have been? I am in no way defending SC but my wife and I generally go around 2 weeks into the run so they’ve ironed out all of the problems! Probably advice too late for you as sounds like you’ll not go again! Also I really think it is such a shame you had such a bad experience at SC. I can truly say I’ve had some of the most immersive evenings over the years (particularly Cuckoos nest, Shawshank Redemption, Battle of Algiers and Third Man). However some have missed the mark. I think if I’d gone to two of these in a row (say Red Shoes and Brazil) then I might have been put off for good. Out of interest which was the other SC you went to? Look forward to your response, Charlie

  2. For me this event was practically a bi-polar experience. For the first hour, I pretty much tried to game the thing and had a lot of fun. I took one of the actors aside to ask ‘so what I should I ‘really’ be doing’, and doing that sort of thing made for a bunch of meaningful and interesting interractions. I stole stuff, cosied up to Leo the boss and had a generally entertaining time with the thug life.

    However, when I started to give up on doing my own thing having managed to racked up about 7 grand of ‘in-game’ money, and tried to follow the plot, it got a lot less fun. As ever at these kind of events, there were a lot of ‘fear of missing out’ moments where the actors would start trying to rush people into certain situations where only a few could have a good view. As you say, actors were often pointlessly rude and hostile, which given the behaviour of some of the ‘audience’ (loutish, unwilling to play along) was understandable, but their job is to transcend that!

    Also the phone thing, totally unacceptable. No reason for it, no sympathy for making such a potentially rubbish system for something that’s so important to people. They need to sort it out.

    I think I’ll follow your lead and blog a review too!

  3. Hi Jackson,
    I think what you’ve done is spot on. If I was a user that happened upon your website by accident then I have the choice now whether to carry on reading. If I do carry on reading and find out what the movie is then I’ve only got myself to blame.
    As I said in my initial post I think you’re more than entitled to air your issues. Would you mind letting me know what the excuses from SC have been? I am in no way defending SC but my wife and I generally go around 2 weeks into the run so they’ve ironed out all of the problems! Probably advice too late for you as sounds like you’ll not go again! Also I really think it is such a shame you had such a bad experience at SC. I can truly say I’ve had some of the most immersive evenings over the years (particularly Cuckoos nest, Shawshank Redemption, Battle of Algiers and Third Man). However some have missed the mark. I think if I’d gone to two of these in a row (say Red Shoes and Brazil) then I might have been put off for good. Out of interest which was the other SC you went to? Look forward to your response, Charlie

  4. Hi, I am going to Secret Cinema this weekend and have heard lots of negative things about it. Particularly that it is too violent. Is this the case? I am also wary of not enjoying this hostility if I have not seen the film. Is there no way anyone can hide their phones in a pocket before going in? Thanks. EM

    1. The phone confiscation thing is absurd. I’m sure if you just told them you heard ahead of time that they would take it and you left it at home, they would leave it at that. It’s unclear if I had just flatly refused to give up my phone whether or not they’d have let me in. Might be worth being aggressive about.

      The movie is exceedingly violent. It includes murder by gun, knife, and strangling. Also, the tone of the movie is extremely exploitive and dark. My experience was that the movie was fine but the actors walking around the space were not. If I had it to do all over again (and had somehow decided it was worth doing again), I would go in armed with the knowledge that I’ll need to be really aggressive with people who are part of the act. They’re going to treat you badly. Also, they respond sort of well to being treated badly in return. This makes some sense given the movie, but I don’t think they got the formula quite right. If someone is rude to you or tries to lure you into giving them (fake) money, just grift them right back. If someone had told me that ahead of time, I think I would have had a much better time.

  5. Hi Jackson,

    Thanks for posting the review.

    I have been a big fan of the future cinema events, but was a little bit nervious about going to something I didn’t know anything about. My wife and I are going in April so I think your thoughts will help prepare for the experience.

    Anyway thanks again.


    1. Glad I provided some value to you. I felt like there was a lot about the experience that is “secret” for the wrong reasons. For what it’s worth, I’ve had some other friends go and have a much better time than we had. Seems like the Secret Cinema folks might have tweaked the formula slightly to make sure people have a sense of direction when they enter the space.

  6. Reading these comments makes my heart break.

    My wife and I just left after a great night.

    There are a hundred things we spotted that could be changed to improve it… but so what. It’s raw, adlib fun. They lost the ball from the roulette table and the girl just smashed on through using a chocolate instead. I’m sure we should have complained to the gaming commissioner that the odds were therefore impaired.

    There’s swearing, murder, awkward and uncomfortable moments. Mistakes, errors and fallibilities.

    Security? Well if somebody can be bothered to go for the lengths required to get in for free then fine. I don’t think it appeals that much to that sort.

    Phones? Can you smuggle it in? Of COURSE you can. It’s cinema not airport security. They just want to protect you from morons like yourselves that can’t be separated from your phone and social media for 5 hours. You could always leave it at home.

    Please stay at home in the future. Otherwise they’ll have to employ health and safety officers next to each actor and then we’ll just run out of seats.

    1. Luke, I’m not sure what you’re talking about to some extent. I don’t think anyone was worried about security at the event. It’s pretty harsh to refer to people who need to have a phone handy as morons. Especially considering that the Secret Cinema team never informed us that no phones would be allowed. I work on a team that has an on-call rotation. Stuff happens. You have to be able to respond quickly. That doesn’t make me a moron.

      You’re definitely right that I should stay home in the future though. I don’t think Secret Cinema is a good use of time and money based on the two experiences I’ve had so far.

      1. Hi. Really glad you wrote this whole thing, having just bought tickets to the BTTF event in August.

        I read the T&Cs VERY closely before buying and there’s absolutely nothing about taking phones in there. All it says is, you agree to the event search policy… For which copies are available at the venue on the day. So basically, they literally don’t tell you in advance

        As you said above – It seems some things are secret for all the wrong reasons. If people knew, they might be free to decide not to buy a ticket…

  7. To be honest, it seems like you just didn’t go with it and were a bit of a prude. The beauty of SC is their creation of the world of a film. In this case, the characters being aggressive, etc. is part of the experience. If you had gone along with it all and been equally (acting) rude back, or at least taken it for what it is, you would have had a fantastic time as my friend and I did.
    On the phones point, although clearly the melee at the end of your evening was an organising error, the no phones policy of SC is fantastic. People are tied to their phones, and SC offers an escapist experience where, as I said before, you (should) immerse yourself in the world of a film. Taking pictures on phones and surfing the internet in the corner are not part of that world. If you can’t deal with a few hours without your phone, it’s quite sad. Also that you seem not to be able to trust people to take their own phones back at the end. I mean honestly, you think people pay £50 a ticket, go and have an evening at the Secret Cinema and then at the end of the night try to steal some phones? Get a grip.
    Also, a woman in the queue with me who explained to the staff that she needed her phone in case her babysitter contacted her was allowed, rightly, to keep it.

    1. I think you’re spot on about needing to go with the flow. If I had been able to relax and feel a part of the experience, it would definitely have been a better time. The trouble was just that there was no opportunity for transitioning into the fantasy the night that I was there. It went from regular life to hyper aggressive incoherence instantly. Only well into the evening did we start to encounter characters that made it possible to suspend disbelief and get into the experience. Maybe that’s because I’m a prude. I’m definitely more sensitive to aggressive behaviour than the average person.

      I also agree with you about the value of no-phones at an event like this. In theory, it would make for a better experience. In my case, cellphones were the least of the worries. Also, I don’t have a problem with not having a phone — if I have the chance to make arrangements for it. In this case, we were told only at the event that they would take our phones. That’s way not cool. Also, I never expressed any worry about them stealing the phone. I worried about incompetent handling. Sure enough, incompetent handling was exactly what I found myself caught by. It’s not hard to imagine a phone being lost or mishandled when the organisation is so bad. My date coming home with a scratched up screen protector is pretty clear evidence that they weren’t doing a great job handling the phones. Anyway, theft was never on my mind.

  8. I went to this – it was my first ever Secret Cinema experience, even though I’ve wanted to go for ages. I hate hate hate dressing up, so I was in a bad mood when I got there as I hadn’t realised I would be expected to don some kind of fancy dress – but I’m glad I did as everyone being ‘in character’ made it all worthwhile.

    II can completely understand why they confiscated peopel’s phones – it wouldn’t have been right in the 1920’s vibe if people were sitting there texting all the time – and they would have taken photos and videos – and what’s secret about that? I think it’s quite healthy to swicth off for a few horus – and I treat my phone like a life support mahcine!

    When I first got there, i was separated from my friend as we were sporting different colours and I couldn’t work out what the hell wa sgoing on, but then, we started purposely interacting with the actors, and ended up seeing some scenes played out, and working out what was happening. I earned a fortune by ‘running errands’ and ‘exchanging information’ – I had an absolute ball, and it made the film seem event more enjoyable as I felt closer to the individual characters as we recognised many of the scenes we’d seen during the evening.

    I thought the actors did a great job – loved it…and I wasn’t really expecting to 😀

  9. Mate. Think you need to get a life. You sound like a miserable bastard. Enjoy life and take a chill pill for Christ sake. Sad bastard!

    1. It’s possible. I’m a pretty high-intensity person. I was also really excited about this evening. In general, I have pretty high expectations for myself and the people around me. In general though, it just means that I pick better things to involve myself in. Your point that I should take a chill pill and enjoy life is noted. Like I point out in the description above, there were aspects of this evening that I really, really enjoyed. Certain aspects of it were just pretty bad. Anyway, fair feedback.

  10. LOL @ the people who can’t live a few hrs without phones – the whole planet did just fine without mobiles less than 20 yrs ago!!! And, Jackson, if you’re on call and need your phone perhaps you should sort your priorities out: your job or your night out. Its not SCs fault your job requires you to have a phone – its up to YOU to take responsibility.

    I’m pretty sure the no phones thing is warned about in advance in emails when we’re instructed what to wear etc but how many of us bother to read everything? I can’t stand people texting or checking phones in cinemas cos the light is distracting. And SC don’t want us taking pics of an event that is SECRET.

    Rude actors? I really think you’re just butt-hurt and not thick-skinned enough to remember the actors are IN CHARACTER. They’re mean gangsters and corrupt/hard-nosed cops after all. Its a GANGSTER movie….RATED R. What, did you really expect them to be all nicey? This wasnt Bambi!!!

    1. So, I think you’re selling me a little short here. I wasn’t on-call that evening. My point is just that I work in an environment where things happen and it’s much better if I can be available. Also, to be clear, I read all the things they sent ahead of time and there was no mention of phone confiscation. Not in the Bank Statement, not in any of the emails. I never expected SC to take any responsibility for me. In fact, it was them who took responsibility for my phone against my wishes. It’s easy to cast around platitudes like that, but I think you’re not responding to what actually transpired.

      Also, as far as rude actors go, I think you’re benefiting from hindsight. At the start of the evening, you don’t know who they’re supposed to be. It could well have been Bambi. More importantly though, the acts weren’t convincing. It didn’t feel like interacting with a gangster. It felt like interacting with an asshole dressed like a gangster most of the time. Like I point out, there were some actors who were really great. Even the actor who assigned me to the jury was pretty convincing. Most of them were not.

      1. “As far as rude actors go, I think you’re benefiting from hindsight. At the start of the evening, you don’t know who they’re supposed to be. It could well have been Bambi. More importantly though, the acts weren’t convincing. It didn’t feel like interacting with a gangster. It felt like interacting with an asshole dressed like a gangster most of the time. Like I point out, there were some actors who were really great. Even the actor who assigned me to the jury was pretty convincing. Most of them were not.”

        But in hindsight, now that you know they were meant to be rude mean gangsters, can you not excuse them for their hostility? You didn’t know it was part of their act but now you do – can’t you forgive them? You didn’t know the movie or what would happen but I think with “Secret” Cinema anything goes. Besides looking at the pics and comments on Facebook its kind of unsurprising the actors would be 1920s gangsters. They acted more like “assholes dressed as gangsters”? I thought gangsters were assholes anyway…I dunno about you but I’ve never met a gangster so have no reference point to know how they’re supposed to act, do you? As for the Jury guy, wasn’t he meant to play a nice guy (and not an asshole gangster)?

      2. I feel like we’re going in a circle now. Most of what you’re pointing out here is answered in the original post. The hostility wasn’t coherent. It didn’t feel like encountering a gangster who happened to have a foul temperament. It felt like running into someone indulging in getting to be nasty while dressed as a gangster. I don’t see how excusing makes sense. Knowing what they were supposed to be doing in some senses only makes it harder to look past because they were actively taking away from the experience.

        I’m not sure what forgiving the actors means. It’s not as if I’m actively angry at them. If I met the guy who blew foul breath and smoke in my face today, I wouldn’t have the urge to punch him. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t still do a terrible job of making the night fun.

        Your question about “real” gangsters is a good one. I’ve only ever met one guy in my life who I would classify as a gangster. He was a retired drug smuggler who ran between Jamaica and Florida using a small single engine plane. The interaction I had with him was me wanting to listen in on a story he was telling to his brother (the father of a friend of mine). After about a second, it was apparent that I was not welcome in the conversation. He looked at me and said, “Why don’t you go find a nail and hang yourself from it?” It was polite, direct, and very intimidating without being nasty. I knew exactly from his quiet words that it was time for me to go. That’s about the most gangster encounter I’ve had. None of the actors apart from Leo exuded similar cool while still being tough.

        The jury guy is a good example. He was definitely a gangster character. He was buying off a jury. I think that necessarily excludes him from being a nice guy. He also didn’t want any muss or fuss about the results. He was very in control, very pushy, but convincing. When he spoke, it felt real.

        More importantly, you’re assuming the only assholes were the mobsters. It wasn’t just those people. The policeman at the entrance was conspicuously hostile and verbally abusive. So was the court room bailiff character. So was the flapper who physically pushed people out of the way to get to the front of the bar to pretend to make herself a drink. For most of the actors I encountered, the default interaction was incoherent assholishness. Even when I was collecting my phone, the actors were still partially in character and those interactions were pushy and cold as well. At that moment, I’m no longer interested in the degree of malaise they can muster, I just want to get my phone and go home. The acting there just didn’t make sense.

      3. Wow,

        Just looking for reviews of the show as we’re due to go this weekend. I’m glad some of the comments here are positive as we’ve spent a lot and are travelling a long way.

        I can see that you are assigned colours. If you don’t mind me asking, which colour were you?

        Can anybody attend the ‘court scene’ you mention?

        And who/where was the particular actor you mentioned that impressed you. Where abouts was his ‘room’? We’ll be sure to look out for him


  11. I loved the event. But didn’t like the film though. ..can’t see why they chose MC over say The Untouchables.

    Re smuggling phones in: could do…but you never know who might spot you – I couldn’t be sure who was audience and who was staff/actor/steward.

  12. Hi Jackson and others,

    I’m currently writing an article for Rushes Magazine as well as an academic piece on Secret Cinema and how their prices have gone up, and what the event actually consists of. I would love to talk to you more about the issues you have raised as I have my own personal opinions about the phenomenon of immersive screenings and the costs to ticket holders. How do i reach you via a private message without splurging my email address all over the internet?

    Amber McClatchey

  13. Hi Jackson, glad we are not alone we left secret cinema last night after my partner who is autistic was roughly pushed into the wooden corner by one actor in the court room. we are VERY upset and disappointed not only with the night but with the so far reluctance of Future cinema so far to resolve this and refund us. We are awaiting another response from Future Cinema before we take this further. We went to the Brazil one and had a lovely time however the behavior by the actor at this performance was unacceptable and possibly illegal. You cannot imagine how distressed my partner was and how disappointed and disgusted we both were after travelling so far to get there

    1. Why was your partner pushed into the corner??? Do you really mean physically pushed as in shoved?

  14. Re expensive tickets: Yes, it’s expensive compared to other shows but isn’t it our own fault that we buy them? It’s not like we don’t have a choice to buy them or not. This show sold out so there’s obviously high demand for them (SC even added extra dates now), I guess it’s survival of the fittest; if you want it enough, you’ll pay for it.

    To me its the same as paying £20 entry into a high-end London nightclub whereas I could easily pay £6 entry into a dive-bar. Is it expensive? Fuck yeah! But do I complain or criticize the venue for being stupidly expensive? Hell no.

    1. I agree. To me cost was never an issue. Though, for that price I do expect a pretty high degree of quality, which seemed to be lacking. Anyway, I’m not sure who you’re replying to.

      1. No one in particular. Just that I see a lot of complaints about the price on Facebook etc.

        @Jackson and Nikki: Did SC get back to you about your grievance yet? While the show is still running I’m sure they’re super-busy right now to respond to emails. Maybe you should call em or better still, did you voice your concerns in person before you left the show that night?

  15. I went to SC last night for the first time ever. And I have to say it was amazing. Yes it’s expensive, but I would spend £50 on a night out anyway so I didn’t have an issue with that. When we were queuing to go in, my boyfriend got pulled out by the Head of the FBI character and was shouted at- we loved it! It put us straight into the gameplay before we even got inside the venue. We knew there was corruption and violence before we got there because of the emails and th Facebook posts from SC (however if you don’t like their Facebook page you might not have seen these).
    Yes some of the actors were a bit rude (I got shouted at and sworn at right in the face by one of the Police) but I personally felt that added so much to it- why would the police be nice?! I would definitely go back again and pay just as much, if not more, to go again. Worth every penny. And with regards to the mobiles, it seems they had sorted your issues out, as when we went to retrieve ours they had them all in numbered boxes so knew straight away where to go to to find our phones. So at least this is positive. Seems like you went really early in the run Jackson, so it’s only fair there were teething problems. It’s a shame your experience has put you off. I loved it. But hey, I can only speak for myself 🙂

  16. Agree with James and Joel’s comments. With respect, don’t bother going again if you’re not the type of person who can immerse themselves in the fun of it without being a spoil sport. And don’t ruin it for others.

  17. I agree with much of what you have said Jackson. I’d also like to put into context, my recent trip to SC with the previous two visits I made. The last two I saw were Shawshank and Brazil. Both, I felt were truly amazing experiences- great sets and great actors. Each time the cost of entry has gone up and I wasn’t surprised that the cost for this latest one would be yet even more expensive. But I was still happy to pay the higher price because it seemed that for the higher price from Shawshank to Brazil, SC had invested more in bigger, more elaborate sets and a bigger show. I was really looking forward to seeing how much more they could push the envelope this time.

    However, it’s clear that squeezing the golden goose too much was what happened on this latest SC. The cost was way higher and no student discount meant a 66% increase in cost for me this time. Fine- I was happy to pay for 66% more enjoyment- soooo not the case. The set was nowhere near as elaborate- tiny, compared to the one in Brazil and nowhere near as as interactive. Actors have gotten so much worse. Alcohol more expensive with fewer, tiny, bars meaning that at the point where everyone wanted a drink, there was a huge queue….

    Such a shame as it would have been nice if the benefit of a having been to an SC before, would be looking forward to seeing how the creator’s imagination could be stretched further each time. Clearly, they peaked at Brazil. Won’t be wasting my money on SC again and really hope for others that next time they either push the boat out more or charge much less.

  18. The phone thing: A brilliant idea. Really, you can’t live without your phone for a few hours? The SC Shawshank Redemption was pretty much ruined for me by dickheads texting their mates and posting Facebook pictures of themselves. Suspension of disbelief – ruined.

    1. Totally agree — people should keep their phones out of the experience. My beef isn’t that they want people to not use their phones. My beef is that they sprang it on everyone at the last minute. Also that they botched the process of taking and returning the phones.

  19. I completely disagree with this review. It doesn’t sound like the reviewer went there in the mood to join in and enjoy the night, a point perfectly illustrated by their uptight attitude to handing over their phone. You’re there to immerse yourself in the 1920’s, not check work emails thereby ruining the authentic atmosphere for everyone else.

    My review is basically the complete opposite of the nonsense written above. This was one of the best nights out I’ve had in London, the actors were great, all really funny and committed to their characters, especially the mob boss Leo. The layout was huge and really detailed with lots of different rooms and scenes to discover. The scenes themselves were elaborate and well orchestrated, with stunts and soundtracks played in. And the film itself was screened beautifully in a gorgeous room, with lots of specially touches. The after party was also great.

    10/10 Secret Cinema. 0/10 Miserable loser reviewer.

    1. If your perspective is that every person should feel eager to hand over their phone to a complete stranger at a moments notice, then I think we just have a fundamental difference in perspective that I don’t think will be resolved. More importantly though, I don’t think you read the actual review. I’m not opposed to giving up my phone when I have a chance to make arrangements for it. My job requires responding to things under short notice. My phone is my notification mechanism when things break. Importantly, Secret Cinema did nothing to let me know ahead of time that they would be taking phones away. That puts me in a tricky position for all the wrong reasons. That doesn’t make me a “miserable loser.”

      To be honest, it sounds like you just want to be insulting, which is okay I guess but not very productive. It’s interesting that you characterise me so harshly, and yet we enjoyed the discovery experience exactly the same way. I also pointed out the detail that went into the rooms and that it was a great experience in terms of stumbling into unexpected environments.

      Also, one other point to consider — I went to an early run and provided strong feedback. My friends who went to later runs explained that Secret Cinema had fixed a lot of the problems I saw when I was there. It’s entirely possible that they’ve improved the quality of the experience based on feedback from miserable loser reviewers like me. Just food for thought.

    1. Na, enough people have made it abundantly clear that they’ll freak out if I mention the movie, so I’m holding off. It’s not hard to find other people making mention of it on Twitter though. At least, that’s what a little birdie told me.

  20. You sound like the most pretentious middle class prick that has ever ventured into something a little bit unordinary. go back to your fucking old peoples home you prick

    1. How dare you call me middle class. I’m much worse than that. I’m American — and one that grew up really, truly poor at that. England’s class system boggles me.

      Also, if you read the post, you’ll see that I’m completely not what you’re accusing me of. Unordinary? How about riding a bicycle naked through the desert? Done it. How about an Easter drag show featuring a hunky Jesus contest? I was there! Sleeping in a hammock tent in a rain storm in a public park in Illinois while traveling alone? That was me, too!

      No, it is not that I’m afraid to venture out. It is that I have ventured out enough that I can tell the difference between a good time and being treated badly.

  21. I’d love to go to SC 21, but I’m not sure if it’ll be worth the money. The tickets are now very expensive and you keep spending when you’re there. I visited the Grand Hotel Budapest and I loved the fun and the movie; but the acting, the drinks and the deco wasn’t as good as expected. I’m sure an event like this is very costly, but I’ve been in better immersive experiences.

    Have you been to ‘The Drown Man’? I know it’s a completely different kind of thing (purely theatre and dance). But, when you think of all the work that went into it, SC feels like a joke and it’s more expensive.

  22. Hi, many thanks for this blog post, it was exactly what I was looking for. I’m going to the Back To The Future event, and I have to say I’m very worried about this phones fiasco. Do they frisk you / search you, do they actively seek out phones on you? I’m fine on turning my phone off and keeping it in my pocket for the duration, but I absolutely refuse to hand over my expensive property to some lackey and then have to queue along with thousands of others at midnight, no bloody way! I can’t leave it at home because I need it to coordinate my position with my friend in the evening of the event, and also to check train and bus times going home. Also, I wonder if they have the actual legal remit to take your property from you…in fact I have a good mind to contact the council of the Olympic Park (the venue for the next event) to see if they are aware this is happening and whether it’s acceptable. As I say I am fine if they want to kick people out who are USING their phones, but I refuse to see why they should have the legal right to actually take your property off you.

    1. My god. I really wanted to go to the back to the future SC event but I’m considering not going because I can see the amount of people who are just going to ruin it. Im 21, and I assume that’s a lot younger than you, OP and ‘wacky Dave’ as everyone I know is willing to completely immerse themselves in the experience, and leave all of 2014 behind FOR. SIX. HOURS. How could you not be expected to give up your phones, how much longer would this whiny post be if everyone was texting, calling and taking photos throughout the performance? If it gets stolen, lost or damaged, back your shit up beforehand and then take it up with SC later. If you’re that scared about your ‘£500 smartphone’ buy a £20 brick phone from tesco and take that, Jesus Christ! No one wants to hear old men whining about phones all night!!

      To be honest Jackson, I was willing to see your issues until you talked about saying no to the guy who asked you if you wanted to make $100. You get out what you put in. You’re in another world there! And if you’re still unwilling to do anything risky and fun in that world (knowing that you’re 100% safe and ‘playing’ as you so creepily put it) then you really are a boring old fart, and you’ve put me right off any SC events that would attract mean old dad-faux lawyer types of people.

      1. Hi Courtney, thanks for the thoughts. I agree with you that the event would be better if people didn’t ruin the vibe with phones. Also, I’m not opposed to leaving my phone behind. The thing is I’m an engineer at Facebook and I work on the systems that help keep the bad guys out. Several of these systems serve literally hundreds of millions of people every day. That’s not an exaggeration.

        So, when something breaks or goes wrong, it’s very important for me to know about it. I love to have a good time just like you (even in my relative antiquity at 30…). I just have to make sure I cover my ass and don’t leave things in a state where if shit goes down, no one can cover it. My beef with the phones is the lack of advanced warning. I don’t think that makes me a whiny loser. Could be wrong.

        Also, it’s hilarious that I come across like an old fart here. I don’t think you actually read the post very well, otherwise you’d have noted that I’m pretty much down for all sorts of awesomeness. Maybe when you’re older you’ll understand.

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