There’s something brilliant about sanctioned playtime – dress up, get a fake name, pretend you’re on a life or death mission, play the da-na da-NA of the James Bond theme in your head. Playfulness is something Secret Cinema’s Casino Royale experience could do with a bit more of, to be honest.
It’s hugely impressive as always. The scale of the thing is astonishing – multiple sets, lovingly realised, close attention to detail, easter eggs for the discerning participant. The ambition might be worth the hefty ticket price alone.
But there is something about this Secret Cinema that feels colder than past outings. Perhaps it’s the material – perhaps the love James Bond inspires is of a different quality than the love found in audiences willing to dress up for Star Wars or Blade Runner – but there’s something about the size of the crowd, the advertising of corporate sponsors that feels a bit queasy.
The scale that makes it so impressive works against it – the sheer number of audience (as many as 1500 a night) limits the ability of the show to create meaningful, structured interaction, and with it any sense of being part of a narrative that has been such a joy in previous Secret Cinemas. You could go beginning to end without encountering an actor once – as with a lot of immersive work, a healthy dose of luck is needed, not only at the poker table, but to be in the right place at the right time.
It’s not helped by the fact that Casino Royale is a long film, and the time allocated to explore before it starts feels bafflingly quick. If you’re intent on getting more Bond for your buck, arrive as early as possible and maybe eat at home – queues for food and drink are substantial.
Still, it’s easy to see where the budget has gone on this one: into production values. The scale and variety of locations are absolutely fitting for a story as international as Bond. The lighting throughout, but particularly in the moments that accompany the film itself, is astonishingly slick and viscerally pleasing. And as always the costumes are a winner, lovingly duplicated – though I was sad not to see a particular pair of blue swimming trunks.
It’s notable that for their James Bond outing Secret Cinema have chosen Casino Royale, the gritty reboot – though the sexual politics of it are only marginally updated (and boy, do I mean marginally, something Secret Cinema essentially sidesteps completely), it certainly lacks the goofy charm of earlier Bonds. For my money, I could have longed for the silly grandeur of a volcano base or an invisible car – something with a bit less cool, and a bit more heart.