With their latest outing, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, Secret Cinema has captured the feeling of a summer festival through the lens of one of cinema’s most baroque auteurs. The result: Glastonbury remixed for cinephiles.
It’s the biggest event yet for the company that began in 2007, when it staged grassroots screenings in abandoned buildings. Since then, of course, it’s become the king of immersive cinema, launching large-scale events that allow audiences to dress the part and build their own characters, before exploring an open, fully-themed world filled with the iconic characters they know and love.
Following the success of its Moulin Rouge! event, Secret Cinema has managed to find a natural kinship with Baz Luhrmann’s work. Who else shares such an unashamed, uncynical earnestness about life and love?
It’s an attitude that seeps into every corner of Romeo + Juliet (except maybe the line for the bathroom, granted); that magical, communal atmosphere that makes for the very best of summer nights.
The gleeful innocence of an entire crowd watching Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy, still so rapt that they’ll cry out to a young Leonardo DiCaprio, as he puts that poison up to his lips: “She’s alive! Don’t do it!”
Set in an open field dotted with bars, food stands, and stages, this production of Romeo + Juliet certainly won’t feel alien to any diehard Secret Cinema attendee, though past outdoor-based incarnations have largely been produced under the Future Cinema banner, one of several spin-offs for the company.
Yet, unlike previous outdoor events, including Dirty Dancing and Grease, Secret Cinema has done a far better, more cohesive job of fusing both the festival atmosphere and the more intimate, more immersive approaches of, say, Blade Runner and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
As you enter the gates of Verona Beach, you’ll be invited to attend a Truce Day, having been assigned either as a member of House Capulet or of House Montague. Secret Cinema’s found a clever trick here in order to control precisely the movements and moods of its guests; knowing when to rile up your sense of House loyalty (despite your identity, essentially, being entirely arbitrary), and when to invest fully in the sense of bohemian love-in.
The latter is helped by a massive team of talented performers from a mix of theatrical and musical backgrounds. Wander around the site and you’ll stumble across a set of storytellers here, a group of drag performers there - or, to fit more directly with the film’s theme, you’ll see scenes acted out by the film’s key characters. And don’t worry: you’ll recognise who’s meant to be who instantly; the casting here is spot-on and the mimicry is impressive.
However, there are two caveats. Firstly, the VIP tickets (which are also given to press) may not quite offer the same level of perks as experienced in past events. During Blade Runner, for example, VIPs were given unique access to new storylines, as well as immediate entry to any part of the venue. The same can’t really be said for Romeo + Juliet, where the main advantage of the VIP tickets appears to be a comfy seat, food and drink tokens, plus a goodie bag.
Another potential issue might arise for groups that have been sorted into two different houses; though your ticket promises Montagues and Capulets won’t be separated, that absolutely happens - multiple times. Then again, it’s arguably all in the spirit of making friends with strangers.
Tickets are available here.
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