My first foray into the world of Secret Cinema was for The Watchmen premier back in 2009. I was lucky enough to have been offered to take part by a friend I’d met whilst at the RSC, Matt Costain, who’d been brought in as the Performance Director. What Matt hadn’t warned me was that I’d be playing Ozymandias so therefore would be dressing up in a latex onesie and spend the evening riding on the back of a real WW2 tank, under and around the arches at London Bridge.
This and the audience interaction throughout, was an absolute first for me and being so out of my comfort zone gave me a bigger rush than playing to a packed house in a 2000 seater. This work has given me some of the most memorable, courageous and surreal challenges I’ve ever had to face as a performer. I made it my mission from that day onward to be as involved with Secret Cinema & Future Cinema, and this genuinely groundbreaking medium, as I possibly could.
So for a first timer, here’s how it works… you go to the Secret Cinema website and purchase a ticket for a show. You don’t know what that film will be, where it will be (although it’s almost always somewhere accessible and in London) or what time to meet. From then, until the day of the show, you are emailed little morsels of wonder, clues, instructions, costume requests, even notifications of social media led flashmobs. Essentially, you as an audience member can participate and be as involved as you wish to be, so that from the moment you arrive on the day, you are treated not merely as a member of the audience but more as a supporting character from the world of the film itself. With Future Cinema productions, the only difference is that you know what movie you’ll be seeing.
Our aim as performers in the company is to facilitate that imaginative leap into the extended world of the film, as much and as far as the audience member wants to take it. Essentially the more willing you are as an audience member to lose yourself and become involved in the world we’re creating, the richer the experience you will have.
In December last year I was asked to join the then Secret Cinema cast of one of my top ten favourite films of all time; Shawshank Redemption. Simon Evans (performance director) had already cast his core troupe, an acting company of over 35 strong, but I was being asked to join Jessica Rose Hall in helping to run the “Secret Restaurant”. This was a relatively new concept whereby a small handful of tickets were sold every night for around twice the cost of a standard ticket, but which included a 3 course fine dining experience with plentiful bubbles and wine on tap throughout the evening. These select few ‘VIP’s’, instead of being processed and incarcerated in the normal manner to become prisoners of Oakhampton State Penitentiary, were instead asked to come dressed in full black tie, under the subnarrative that they were to be guests of the Warden, in aid of the Governor’s reelection campaign. I leapt to the challenge as instead of floating around the extended world, interacting in short but precise improvised scenes with anyone and everyone, I was instead to sit in character for almost 3 hours straight cohosting a meal and helping with tours of the prison. And so once again, never had I been so challenged in the improvising stakes. Literally flying by the seat of my pants type stuff.
Suddenly and often I could be asked a question that regardless of how well I had prepared or how cemented my backstory was, would catch me so off guard I would just have to resort to the basic impro techniques I was taught at Drama School. The most crucial of which, taught by the legend that is Brian Parson, is the continuous internal mantra of “oh yes”. Simplified, the basic rule is to never block any suggestion by anyone, however ridiculous. You are banned from denying a new impetus and so when anyone asks you a leading question whilst in character, instead you are left with one option – to agree and to build upon it. So long as the result doesn’t destroy the given circumstances or the playing truth of the scene.
“Have you ever been imprisoned?” says one rather enthusiastic and suave dinner guest one evening.
“Erm… well it was a long time ago and I served my sentence so I’d rather not go into it”, I say, knowing full well I’m stalling just to buy myself enough time to think.
“Oh go on, what were you in for?”
Now bearing in mind that I could have come up with literally any amount of witty or pithy responses or laughable crimes, it was almost like my brain was playing catch up with myself as my ears heard my mouth say:
The silence in the room was momentarily unbearable. My mind raced as did my heart as the adrenaline kicked in. Rape is one of those words an absolute conversation stopper. However perverted your sense of humour, there’s nothing funny about rape. I felt the walls close in slightly.
And yet the guy wouldn’t let go of his bone, breaking the silence.
“Who did you rape?”
I looked him square in the eye. This fine diner clearly thought he’d got me by the balls. Then it hit me thank God I’d seen this movie so many times. I held his gaze for just long enough to make him fidget before deciding that just this once, I might just break Brian’s golden rule.
“You asked me what I was in for so I told you what I was charged with… but I didn’t say I did it. My lawyer fucked me. Everybody’s innocent in here. Didn’t you know that?”
Future Cinema’s Casablanca with Peter Hinton as Victor Lazlo is currently running at the Troxy.