Wow, what a mind-blowing experience we had last night! There was so much going on, I don’t even know where to start. When I got into bed this morning (around 1 am), I honestly couldn’t sleep because the evening’s events were playing back in my mind over and over again. The evening can only be described as absolutely incredible!

Before I continue with our experience, let me start by giving you a very quick introduction to what Secret Cinema is and what they do.

 

An overview of Secret Cinema

Secret Cinema was created in London by a guy called Fabien Riggall. As a kid, he dreamt of living a movie experience instead of just watching them. So in 2007, he created a company that turns (mostly) cult films into 360-degree participatory secret worlds. These experiences can take place anywhere in the city, from outside venues and parks to abandoned buildings or warehouses. The success of Secret Cinema, I believe, lies in their meticulous attention to detail and the fact that no expense is spared when it comes to designing the experience. When you attend one of these events, you can expect to perform with real-life actors in a setting that would make you forget all about the outside world – it’s mindblowing, to say the least.

So for you to grasp the extent to which Secret Cinema designs the experience, quickly watch the first minute of each of these clips from previous cinemas:

28 Days later (2016):

Shawshank Redemption (2012):

All caught up? It’s next level right?

Now that you’ve seen how incredible these guys really are, let’s talk about the experience we had last night. This year’s Secret Cinema was James Bond (Casino Royale) and believe me when I say I had a few jaw-dropping moments throughout the evening. It goes without saying but you need to watch the movie before you arrive if you aren’t the die-hard Bond fan, otherwise you’ll miss most of the detail and fun.

Booking and getting there

When you buy your tickets, you actually have no idea where the event will take place. Okay, that’s not entirely true, it’s safe to say that you can narrow it down to ‘somewhere in London’. Then a few months later, we received an email with our aliases, the mission name, an access code, our assigned department colour (so that we can be identified on the night – our colour was Teal) and lastly, the video below:

Then, two days before the event (on Thursday) we were told to be at a specific Tube station in east London where further instructions await.

Arriving at Secret Cinema

Upon arrival at the Tube station, MI6 agents in tuxedos, sunglasses and earpieces were standing outside the station. When you approach any of these agents they would ask you for the access code (which was the word “CHASE”) and then they’d point you in a certain direction. A few metres down the road, other agents were waiting with further directions which ultimately led to an old warehouse, but not just any warehouse, a MASSIVE warehouse. I mean, judging its size on the way in, the place is so big that you would be able to comfortably fit at least two jumbo jets inside it.

Before we entered the warehouse, a lady approached us at the gate as she noticed the colour of my pocket square and Elaine’s feather boa. She told us to look for someone with a large bunch of Teal flowers who would be able to give us further instructions. Outside the warehouse, we walked the red carpet, got some champagne and took a few photos before we spotted a man with a hat, sunglasses and Teal flowers. We approached him and he briefed us:


“Good evening operatives and welcome to Casino Royale here in Montenegro. We are trying to find out how a large number of terrorist organisations are funded and we believe that a suitcase with a $100m in cash is going to be exchanged right here tonight. Our mission is to track down a lady with the name of Margot De La Qarx who plays a key role in funding these terrorist activities. She is extremely dangerous and, if at all possible, don’t approach her directly but try to get close enough to her to obtain one of her business cards which we believe contains an encrypted key. Once you have the business card, you need to fly back to London immediately where the team at MI6 HQ would know what to do with it.

Now, once you get in there, Ms De La Qarx could be anywhere. Maybe she’s in Madagascar, maybe in Venice or even Miami, so make sure you follow any clue you can get and remember operatives, trust no one.”


Entering the secret world of Casino Royale

This was one of the coolest parts of the night. As you enter the warehouse, you leave your actual life at the door and need to go 100% into character. There is no Andre and Elaine, only Jack Blakely and Juliet Birchley who are undercover MI6 agents on a mission. And leaving reality behind comes naturally as Secret Cinema once again recreated the entire world of James Bond, exactly as you’ve seen it in the movie.

Inside this warehouse are full-scale, life-size sets that are so ridiculously realistic that you completely forget it’s all made up. A few examples include:

  • the entire Madagascar scene where the movie’s first fight and chase scene starts. And yes, we caught the live version of the fight and chase scene last night too
  • the full terminal building at Miami Airport, a crazy cool set (to say the least) with those steel airport seats, payphones, flight information boards, check-in counters, luggage carousels, airport announcements, a full Virgin Atlantic sales desk and a huge “Skyfleet” aeroplane hanging from the roof, you know, the one they wanted to blow up in the movie
  • the full MI6 HQ in London with the gadget room and car (pics below), mission briefing rooms, intel rooms and interrogation rooms
  • the train station in Montenegro, again with train station announcements, newspaper outlets, display boards with train departures and arrivals information, a small platform cafe and photobooth
  • the set in Venice with the small Italian restaurants where syndicates conduct their business
  • and of course, the life-size version of the Casino which included the poker tables and the bar.

Some of the scenes we were involved in

After entering the magical world that is Secret Cinema, we found ourselves in the terminal building at Miami airport. Elaine, or should I say, Juliet, quickly noticed that the payphones in the terminal building were all out of order, except for two of them. We figured, if we hang around long enough, one of them was bound to ring. And it did. I answered the phone and the dialogue went something like this:

Me: Hello
Person X: Good evening, who I am speaking to?
Me: Jack Blakely, and who are you?
Person X: I have a business proposal for you, are you interested?
Me: Of course, I’m always looking for new opportunities.
Person X: Good. My employer doesn’t really care about the money, we care about people who can be discreet, do you think you can be discreet?
Me: Of course.
Person X: Good. When you put this phone down, go and sit on the benches near departures in the terminal building, my name is Isaac, I will see you shortly.
Me: Understood.

I hung up the phone and went to sit on the airport benches as instructed. Seconds later, a man in a tux sat next to Juliet and introduced himself as Isaac. After a bit of small talk, he told us to follow him to Venice where his employer is waiting for us. On our way, he asked us many different questions about our aliases and suddenly we were in a restaurant in Venice. We were greeted by a guy wearing a hat and dark glasses who gave us a whole back story of how they plan to discreetly move money to ‘some of their top clients’. He made it clear that he works for an organisation other than MI6 and wanted us to join his business venture. Suddenly, the man seemed nervous and said he’ll be right back, but he never returned. Before we realise he disappeared, an MI6 “00” agent approached us to hear what happened. We told him the man wanted to move money around but that we’re actually more interested in a lady called Margot De La Qarx. He said we must go to London immediately because the intelligence unit might know where she is.

Jack and Juliet returned to Miami airport and asked at the Virgin Atlantic counter how to get to London. The lady gave us directions and a short walk later we got to a hallway where a security guard asked us “Operation?”. We both replied “WILDCARD” and then she let us into the MI6 bunker. There we found the intelligence units, the computer geeks, the guy with all the gadgets in his lab and even Bond’s Aston Martin DBS. It was awesome! Whilst the gadget guy and I had a quick chat, Margot De La Qarx suddenly popped up on the facial recognition system in Madagascar and we were told to go to Madagascar immediately to find out what she likes, dislikes, if she’s got family – pretty much anything they can use against her in an interrogation room.

We rushed over to Madagascar, but due to the festival’s loud music, the fight that took place and the large crowd of people, we couldn’t find her. We were on the hunt for about two hours, moving between Madagascar, Venice, Miami and London when suddenly we were told to drop everything and immediately proceed to the casino as Margot was spotted on the casino floor.

The Casino set was the real deal with multiple poker tables and a live band with other entertainers dancing around the stage. Suddenly, shots are fired in the casino and all of us fall to the floor. A man in a white suit runs across the large room with a suitcase and jumps on top of the large poker table in the middle of the casino. From the roof, a large retractable ladder appears with spotlights and loud helicopter sounds. It felt like the helicopter is hovering just meters above our heads. The man with the suitcase is clearly the criminal moving the money. As he steps onto the ladder, the ladder starts to retract into the roof but Bond comes running in after him. He executes the perfect dive as he jumps and just barely grabs onto the last step of the ladder. The ladder moves up into the roof faster. While the helicopter is taking off, Bond climbs up the ladder and manages to grab onto the suitcase, but the suitcase pops open and a $100m in bills fly across the room as the two actors disappear into the roof. A lady’s voice, that sounded exactly like the real ‘M’ in James Bond, announces that the mission has been compromised and that Operation Wildcard is officially suspended – and with that announcement, the curtain walls of the casino suddenly lifted up into the roof and the Bond theme song started to play. Behind the curtains stood a thousand-seater stand and a massive screen where we took our seats for the screening of the film.

When the movie started, I thought the acting and games are all over and done with and that we’ll now just sit and watch the movie – but the drama continued. The screen was about the size of an iMax screen and in front of it, the Casino Royale poker table and bar. As the movie played on the big screen, the real-life enactments took place in front of it. If Bond was chasing someone in the movie, then he was chasing someone right in front of us too. When Bond entered the embassy and alerted the military in Madagascar, we were surrounded by men and woman in army uniforms with guns shooting right over us. Every time anything exploded in the movie, fireballs from under the floor filled our theatre to make it more spectacular. And every time the Aston Martin or Bond girl appeared in a scene, we caught the live show too. You literally sit on the edge of your seat the entire time.

Conclusion

In one word – mindblowing! It’s the ultimate movie experience and once you’ve attended one of these magical Secret Cinema worlds, you’ll never want to sit in a normal movie theatre ever again. And not to overshare – my wife looked so damn stunning in her evening dress that I couldn’t wait to take her home for my very own Bond-girl moment…..queue the theme song, please!

 

 

Official photo credits: Secret Cinema