Secret Cinema presents Romeo + Juliet review

'Twas a warm summer’s eve in London and the people came from all over to join once more in unity under the shimmering stars. An evening of love, revenge and tragedy lay before them as they did enter into another Secret Cinema universe, where upon they were divided into Capulets and Montagues who were sworn to refrain from bloody war on this day of peace.

With their smaller, but hugely successful, Blade Runner event now wrapped up it was the turn of Baz Lurhmann to once again step forward into the Secret Cinema spotlight. Moulin Rouge had already become one of their most popular events to date, so what could be better than returning to 1996 and the Australian director’s Romeo + Juliet, in a film that saw a baby-faced Leonardo DiCaprio taking his final steps towards superstardom.

Currently tucked away in a hidden location is Secret Cinema’s most lavish production yet, welcoming 5,000 people every night who eagerly throw on their Hawaiian shirts, face glitter and angel wings in preparation for another 5 hours of cineaste delights. The open air setting is similar to the Dirty Dancing and Grease celebrations previously held in London, creating a festival-style atmosphere with an array of attractions and detailed features scattered around like concert stages in an open field.

Fabien Riggall (the creator of Secret Cinema) and his crew have been growing year-on-year since 2007 and they still understand the importance of creating intimacy even as the settings and ideas become more ambitious. Everywhere you turn there is something going on as the drinks steadily flow and the smell of sizzling hot food hovers in the air over a hungry crowd.

With the 90s revival continuing to gather momentum and the tired 80s rehashes being pushed ever closer to the margins, Lurhmann’s brash and melodramatic reinvention of Shakespeare’s classic love story evokes some of the best and worst elements of cinema made during the decade. Colours pop off the screen in every frame and the Mafioso archetypes are in full-effect, as are the rapid edits that set the precedent for the shortening of attention spans in age of digital film. Swords may have become pistols but Cupid’s arrow is still razor sharp and the saga is transplanted from the ancient Italian city of Verona to a fictionalised setting on the sun-filled and slightly seedy Californian coastline.

As with any Secret Cinema event letting your inhibitions go and getting into character enhances the experience and those wanting to attend can choose between two ticket categories. Depending on whether you pick the standard Young Hearts & Rogues, or the more expensive VIP Nobles & Underbosses, each one offers different areas of access, seating locations and refreshment perks. A highly-skilled cast throw themselves into their nightly performances, encouraging excited crowds to gather round before inviting them to take part in tasks that will send them deeper into a Shakespearean rabbit hole.

Whether cast in red as a Capulet or disguised in Montague blue, visitors are free to roam wherever they please in the hope of discovering something unseen by thousands of others. There are a section of hardcore fans that return several times to many of these events, making sure every last corner is explored and any secrets held by the actors are revealed and pieced together to form a larger picture. That is no different this time and staff can expect to see a number of familiar faces passing through Verona Beach on more than one occasion.

Secret Cinema’s model allows them to go super-sized during the summer before stripping things back down for one or two smaller events during the year. This keeps audience expectation levels under control and eases the pressure off having to put on ever-more spectacular events every time. Shows of this scale bring together fans of film, theatre, festivals and anyone in search of something out of the norm in the capital. Even when the film itself is something of a dud it’s the coming together and sharing of the moment that makes it all seem worthwhile.

Secret Cinema presents William Shakespeare's Romeo+Juliet runs until August 25th.

Check out the website for ticket availability and event information.

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