The best pop culture depictions of the Eighties are poised on a knife edge: bright colours! Big hair! Definitive pop! But also corruption! Greed! Excess! That’s the dichotomy that the Netflix series Stranger Things is built on: come back and bathe in nostalgia, with a seam of adult fears underneath. Secret Cinema’s live action immersive retelling gets that.
Gathered to celebrate a balmy 4th July 1985 in the town of Hawkins, Indiana, there’s both fizz and spook to the proceedings: plenty lycra, but also plenty dark corners and flickering lights. Without giving away too many of the show’s secrets, there’s an obvious political relevance (rhymes with ‘Schmonald Schmump’), and it gives the evening some ballast to anchor the arc of it in government corruption and the role of a free press. A lot of infrastructure is in place to get audience members talking to each other, sharing secrets; there is power in whispers, and the unravelling of truths.
If it misses some of the sweetness of the series, the wholesomeness of kids-on-bikes dictums like “friends don’t lie”, then it is still very much a show for adults, many of whom are willing to don fishnet tights and fingerless gloves and drop a ton of cash on food trucks and booze. There’s plenty of fun to be had in the unfolding environs and, crucially, extremely helpful staff who can point you in the direction of a bit of sleuthing to get involved in.
As always, the production values are eye-wateringly cool. The performances are particularly spot on and feel like loving tributes to the series – there’s a thrill to spotting [Redacted] patrolling the crowd, or being politely hustled out of the way by [Redacted] so they can use a payphone, although you might have to go looking for your favourites. It’s a fun feeling being the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Hawkins, on the edge of something vast and mysterious.
The detail is seemingly endless, from costuming to set dressing (and some wigs that can be seen from space), and the final half hour is spectacular, though likely to be divisive. Instead of the traditional screening, it’s something much more live and theatrical in a way that’s a new direction for Secret Cinema. Although some of its dramaturgy is questionable (it is essentially Stranger Things: The Remix), it is gorgeous in design, particularly its lighting, video and choreography.
The usual disclaimers apply: there are huge numbers of people milling through the space, and even once you manage to jump on a storyline, queues start to form to talk to Significant Characters, giving it a slightly ‘waiting to meet Mickey at Disneyland’ quality. Get there early, be proactive, wear flat shoes.