Here's the thing about Secret Cinema events. The event starts long before your actual experience. In the case of this year's offering, “Dirty Dancing”, one had to register at Kellerman’s Holiday Camp a week or so beforehand at which point being assigned a name (Deborah Willis), a job (sketch artist) and a new place of residence (apparently I've been from California for the last fortnight!). Once registered there was a whole brochure of anticipatory delights presented to prepare and excite you, from costume and prop suggestions, to message boards and activity sheets. So by the time we reached last Friday, we were more than ready to jump into 1963 and a summer vacation at Kellerman’s Mountain Resort. To avoid spoilers, I will say only that the camp was located within zones 1-3 in London, with a fairly lengthy walk from public transport to the camp. To be honest, the walk was fine as it gave some time to escape reality and set ourselves up for the evening ahead. The other amusing thing about travelling to a Secret Cinema event is that the closer you get to the venue, the more you see people dressed in the same style. It's as if you have to mildly embarrass yourself and accept the stares of others coming into London and ‘join the club’ on the way back out! So as the many dresses from Collectif, beach balls, hula hoops, Hawaiian shirts and even watermelons(!) processed down the road, we were well on our way to the resort!
The company has worked really hard to create an atmosphere which will generate the right amount of nostalgia for fans of the film, whilst ensuring there is enough to do and see. Key locations were hidden amongst bars and food stalls and the performer’s duties provided helpful guidance as to where to go. Credit should go to the Kellerman’s staff who were more than happy to make fools of themselves in order to relax the crowd. Once welcomed to the camp, you are free to explore and roam the large site; eat, drink and soak up the atmosphere that most women my age longed to spend a summer in during their late teens! All areas of the film are there to discover, and you might be lucky enough to catch a scene or two along the way. Actors recreate the iconic scenes live, giving a real immersive feel to the experience. We become part of the story; or at least invisible participants.
Eventually guests of the resort gravitate towards their picnic blankets, armed with food and drink in preparation for the screening of the film. As the sun gradually sets, the famous soundtrack begins and that's when you really feel part of something special. Everyone around us had a fondness for the film which made the event a real shared experience. No-one was afraid to sing along in places, to quote moments of the script and jump up if they were dressed as a character appearing on the screen. As is typical of Secret Cinema's structure, the most iconic scenes were reenacted live by actors. It was clear each scene and role had been thoroughly researched as the level of accuracy was impressive, both in the characterisation of the non-dancing roles, and to a greater extent the precision of the original dance routines.
All the performers throw themselves into the event which energy and commitment, but it is the dancing which really shines. It's not only the attention paid to the original choreography, but the consideration of an audience's response to it. In the larger full cast scenes, many attendees were on their feet dancing, some with members of the ensemble, and all appear to be having a joyous time! By the end of the film, the energy was palpable; thousands on their feet singing and dancing, punching beach balls at each other and generally having the 'time of their lives'.
I'm aware the facilities at the venue have been criticised in terms of queueing and limited toilet cubicles. To be honest, we all had to queue at some point and wanting to criticise or pull apart the experience then you may well find fault with that aspect of the event. Taking a positive attitude from the off makes this complaint irrelevant in my opinion. Of course conveniences are called that for a reason but in situations like that, if you engage with other ‘holidaymakers’ and suspend your disbelief, it's easy to make a joke out of these issues, adding to the shared experience. There's a certain element to large scale events such as Secret Cinema where if you enter into it with the spirit in which it is intended, you'll have a blast. In short, seek to enjoy rather than judge. There is such much fun to be had at Kellerman’s!