My instructions were simple: wear my best 1920s gear, look out for Joey the violinist underneath the railway arch on Caroline Street, identify myself as a “friend of Rabbit” on the door and bring a book to get past security – they didn’t want the cops finding out what’s really going on in that...ahem... “library”.
I’d heard great tales about just how all encompassing and immersive the Secret Cinema experience was, but all this was before I’d even left the house! I actually arrived around 15 minutes early, expecting to see actors and stage hands sneaking in a quick smoke before the performance. What I got instead was a barber insisting on shaving me (he covered my face with foam, but thankfully I was unharmed), a shoeshine boy offering to buff up my leather, and a newsman saying something about a gang war. No stone had been left unturned, and I knew this would be like no cinematic experience I’d had before.
The Troxy in Limehouse was the ideal venue for recreating Fat Sam’s Grand-Slam Speak Easy: a stunning, art-deco east London ballroom, beautifully ornate and with enough nooks and crannies to squirrel away a cast of hundreds. Also, the “bring a book to get in” feature provided a lovely excuse for people to rid themselves of their copies of David Nicholls’ One Day – I saw about eight lining the floor.
A jazz band were in full swing as I entered, greeted by two glamorous showgirls at the door. Surveying the room I found an underground boxing ring, an Italian food counter – prices £4.50 for kids and £6.50 for adults – a long, well manned bar and a girl selling cakes and milkshakes in the corner, as well as chatting to the Fat Sam’s regulars in her beautiful Brooklyn drawl. As things got busier a couple of croupiers took to the tables at the back of the room, though no money changed hands, and the stage filled with singers, dancers, and Fat Sam himself making sure everyone was having a good time.
No stone had been left unturned, and I knew this would be like no cinematic experience I’d had before
What made the experience so unique was just how interactive everything was. Federico, the barber who had seen to me outside, came back over to chat. Tallulah, the star of the show, prowled around the hall taking up residence at various tables throughout the night, no doubt massaging the egos of the male customers – she eyed me up twice, pretty sure.
So good was the show in fact that I totally forgot that the actual film was going to be screened. We were first treated to Harold Lloyd’s “Three Gun Gussie”, accompanied by a live piano score, before Alan Parker’s class homage to film noir sent everyone into a frenzy. I’d forgotten just how good a film it was. The razor sharp dialogue fizzes along at a pace, the world created is as fantastical as it is believable and the musical numbers, which the audience sang along with gleefully, swing along with joy.
All the while the actors continued to move through the audience. The atmosphere hadn’t died down, and there was a real sense of a grand finale befitting of such a glorious venue. Then, it happened. Fat Sam came on stage and warned everyone of the incoming attack. Plastic ponchos were hidden underneath tables and everyone quickly dressed up. Plates of foam were handed around and finally, all hell broke loose. There was no standing on ceremony, everyone was flinging plates at everyone else, nobody was spared. I naively thought that, given I was holding a fairly expensive camera, people would avoid me – then I got a face full of foam. I couldn’t care less.
I can’t think of another film, concert or festival I’ve been to where everyone was enjoying it so much. The idea that cinema is escapism has been lost in recent years, principally because it’s hard to escape the fact that you’ve just paid £14 to sit in a box-sized room with sticky floors to watch some bullshit popcorn fodder, but future cinema take that idea to the absolute extreme. The fact that free tickets were offered to residents of Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest boroughs in London, shows the company have a sense of social responsibility too. Future Cinema will return later in the year, their next projects being Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and The Wizard of Oz. I strongly encourage that you go along, you’re guaranteed to have an excellent time.
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