Reader, I have a confession to make. I am one of the worst culprits for ‘main character syndrome’. Perhaps it’s my copious social media use, or maybe it’s because of the MCU show WandaVision. Nonetheless, I can’t help but revel in the idea that I’m the protagonist of my very own drama movie, with everyone else in my life playing supporting roles.
So, of course, when I was invited as a plus one to the grand opening of Secret Cinema’s latest event, themed around Bridgerton, I jumped at the chance. For those uninitiated, Secret Cinema is essentially a real-life version of the Netflix series Murderville. Based in an undisclosed location in London, you’re thrown straight into the deep end of an immersive experience complete with activities, themed decor, and a committed troupe of actors who will re-enact key scenes for an audience, as well as interact with you one-on-one in-character. They expect you to do the same, so you must dress the part.
Previous Secret Cinema experiences have been themed around TV series Stranger Things and time-travel movie Back To The Future — but due to the pandemic, the popular event has been out of action for a while. It came back with a bang with Bridgerton, with audiences encouraged to immerse themselves in Regency(ish) era England — so here’s some gossip about the event that would even make Lady Whistledown blush.
As part of the secrecy of the event, we were simply told to go to a London station and then await further direction. Sitting on the Tube in a full ballgown was a humbling experience, but the good news is, I wasn’t the only one — dozens of other people were dotted around on other platforms and carriages in Regency-era outfits. What came next became clear as assistants with signs as elaborate as their 1800s outfits guided us outside and then on the short walk to the venue. From the outset, they were in character, so it made the transition feel a lot more seamless.
Upon arrival, our phones were locked away in a little bag, and we were given strict instructions to refrain from taking photos until we heard the opening chords of ‘It’s Raining Men’. As a self-confessed phone addict, I was slightly sceptical of the rule — but I’m really glad it was in place, as I feel like people’s constant Instagramming throughout the night and the temptation to live-Tweet events would have definitely detracted from the subsequent immersion.
As for the decor itself, it was beautiful: rich with vivid florals, ornate chandeliers and sprawling trees and balconies. At the centre was a stunning ballroom fit for a queen, with Queen Charlotte observing the events in a throne area, occasionally coming down to grill the guests for gossip and ask them why they weren’t bowing.
The ballroom also included an elevated stage which served two purposes. Mostly, it was the centre of ballroom dancing accompanied by a string quartet playing Regency-remixed pop songs. Other times, it served as the centre point for characters to re-enact key moments from the show, such as the duel scene between the Duke and Anthony Bridgerton. These were intercut with dazzling projected images and clips to reinforce the impact of these scenes — but the acting didn’t stop when the performers left the stage.
All evening, you were free to mingle among characters from Bridgerton — with many of them ushering you away to slip you a secret or two, or asking you for help in trying to woo a sweetheart. As a disgustingly nosy person, I couldn’t contain my excitement when Lady Featherington ushered me and a few others into a hidden annex to help her write a fake letter to Marina Thompson’s lover back home, who impregnated her out of wedlock (gasp!).
Of course, it was all fictional, but the characters were so believable and the actors did not break from their roles once (despite me throwing a few curveballs and forcing them to improvise just because I’m a bit of an arsehole, to be honest), so it was easy to become immersed. The Featherington sisters were also thrilled to learn that my friend was unmarried, and whisked the poor man away more than once.
Along with the mingling, you had a variation of activities to choose from: from life-drawing, to choir singing, and rough-and-tumble boxing matches. However, with the event spanning approximately three hours, we were done with all of them within an hour and a half, and there were a couple of slow moments where it felt like you were killing time.
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In all fairness, I didn’t have time to fill out the online ‘finishing school’ in advance, which gave you a name, storyline and ‘mission’ for the night, but I feel like even so, just one or two more activities would have helped fill out the event a little more.
Maybe it didn’t help that while the area was decorated beautifully, it only spanned a handful of rooms and wasn’t the most spacious of places. It got a little stuffy at times because of this, so an outdoor area would have been a welcome addition, although I understand that’s probably incompatible with the whole ‘secret’ thing.
That being said, it was nice to have the autonomy to dip in and out of the immersion: being able to sit on the sidelines and have a drink with your friends before diving into the next thing. It seems counter-productive to complain of too much of a good thing, but there were a handful of moments where I’d be doing just this: sitting down, catching my breath, and one of the actors would (in-character) try to take me to an activity I’d already done.
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Don’t get me wrong — this was really helpful on some occasions. Everyone was really lovely and this was clearly something done in good faith (I suspect actors were told in advance to ensure that everyone was having fun and not feeling left out, which is a really nice touch for more reclusive guests). However, on some occasions, it did make me feel like I was having to sit through a non-skippable dialogue with a videogame NPC.
Maybe this is just me being a grumpy introvert, though — as much as I love these kinds of events, the constant socialisation and stimulation can be a bit intense at times, especially if, like me, you’re neurodivergent. I definitely benefited from periods where I could sit down and gather my thoughts in quieter corners, so maybe a designated ‘chill out’ space for people to recharge is something for the organisers to think about in the future.
The food and drinks were of a decent standard, with themed bars and kiosks in every room, and water taps on every corner in case people were (unsurprisingly) a bit puffed out from dancing. I was lucky enough to have tokens as a ‘VIP guest,’ and while the food was an accessible price, some of the drink prices did make my eyes water a little — and I didn’t even have to buy any. There were a handful of cocktails on sale, but there wasn’t a huge variety and they didn’t taste the nicest.
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Although the food was definitely great, with a lot of different options on offer (I forgoed savoury with my food voucher and went for a Nutella crepe incidentally named ‘Queen Charlotte’), seeing people in top hats and ballgowns milling around with takeaway burgers and chips definitely took away from the immersion a little bit — perhaps a more themed sit-down meal in advance would have been a better way to go about it.
On the whole, however, these are all very minor quibbles. It was hugely fun, entertaining, and unlike anything, I’d ever been to before. As grownups, you don’t often get the chance to play pretend anymore, so it was nice to be able to suspend disbelief and really get into character just for one night. The grand finale of the event included crowning one of the guests Diamond of the Ball as well as a re-enactment of The Duke and Daphne getting married: complete with a white dress, flowers, and an enthusiastic wedding party.
After celebrating the newlyweds (and even bearing witness to an adorable IRL proposal between two of the guests), there was an explosion of confetti as a DJ replaced the string quartet and got everyone dancing beneath neon lights as part of the event’s after-party. It really did feel like a celebration too: a celebration of not only a good night out, but also of the power entertainment and fiction has in bringing people together.
I loved all of it. Every scar. Every flaw. Every imperfection. I loved it.