Please note all photos are property of Secret Cinema and were taken from their Facebook page.
I had heard of secret cinema before a couple years ago, I had a few actor friends that were performers and people talked about the star wars show that happened a few years ago. But i never figured out how that would work? actors perform while the movies goes on in the background? I would find that more distracting than enjoyable. Then I saw on facebook and advert about it being Moulin Rouge! and I had to go. Sadly i know my limitations, i was not going to stand the whole time, so yes i paid 65£ to be able to sit when the actual movie presentation happened. Before I get into my experience I feel i should give some background to why Moulin Rouge! is so important to me.
The year is 2003, I have just started my first year at Coffeyville Community College and living in the “ghetto” dorms. Luckily our theatre instructor was able to get a lot of us girls from the same department to live together. Needless to say Moulin Rouge! would cycle through being played from our various rooms, either being a soundtrack or the film, which is funny considering this film came out a few years prior. I loved it, it brought me back to my childhood where I used to take my Jurassic Park and Star Trek action figures and make them perform musicals to popular songs on the radio. only to find out that someone had the same idea I did and made this amazing film! it was even the only poster that made it on my wall in the dorm, (I have this weird habit that i don’t put a lot of stuff on my wall)
9 years later I was actually very lucky to go to Paris France in 2012 with the wife at the time and see various sites. She was having to stay in the hotel to study for an exam and I did a quick tour of the sights. So I saw the outside if the Moulin Rouge but no show sadly. I don’t know if that even counts as going to it but was still cool all the same.
Back to present day and I’m staring at the Facebook video and in an impulse I buy the tickets. But it was so much more than that! Everyone was given a character name and parts of clothing you had to wear. My character luckily didn’t have a French name that I couldn’t pronounce. No my character was “Mary Grant” and I was a sculptor, a child of the revolution. We had various this we could share on social media and could even meet up with specific characters. We also had certain things we had to bring the night of the performance. For me it was a blue ribbon, grey scarf and I went a bit drag and wore a white shirt and black trousers. I wanted to be comfortable.
Finally the day arrives and I head to Canning Town station where I was worried I wouldn’t know where to go, for you see I was going by myself. New motto of if I couldn’t find anyone to go with me I’d just go on my own. Life is to short. I didn’t have to wait long as I saw so many people wearing costumes and then there was a lady dressed as a perisian cop who got my attention and directed me to the right area.
I reach the front of the que because I thought we had to be there by 6, not doors open at 6. So I take a moment and just post my list bits to social media and stand next to a replicated sign of the Paris Metro…something that I have seen in real life about 5 years prior. Tickets are scanned and we are all given a small black bag to out our phones in and we have to show security that they are closed and the adhesive is activated.
I loved this if I am perfectly honest. I loved that they didn’t want to ruin the illusion and experience. I walk in and it is the complete replica of the mouth doorway of Montmartre in the beginning of film with priest saying the “leave this village of sin” and I just was a kid smiling in glee. We passed through some black curtains and my jaw dropped! The set was huge and detailed. To my right we had a bar and people doing portraits sketches. To my left there was Satie playing on the piano and looked just like him!!!! There were vendors selling edible cocktails (which were amazing) and various prints. I was lucky and got the last black elephant print and was told to come by after the show and pick it up
I walked a bit further and straight in was a tavern with a large bar on the left and a small stage on the right with a band playing various jazz and ensemble songs. I sat down at one of the tables and just took in the atmosphere and people watched. Next thing I know the Duke is coming in stumbling around saying hello and Toulouse is not that far behind me. He clocks that I am sitting by myself and starts to stoke up the conversation. He warns me to watch out for people with red flowers and sadly never found out what that meant and went on his way.
After I finished my Coke I turned around and walked to my right where a large ten ent sh showed an additional area where ther was food stalls to the right, another stage in front, and two more bars on the left, VIP was upstairs. I sat on bench and watched the performers a bit and then headed back out to the “market area” that I first entered when I came in. All of a sudden the lights got dark and the crowd gathered. Spotlight on Toulouse started and then the actor himself started to sing the opening song. No lip syncing here. We all joined singing at top of our lungs. One of the performers saw me and once again because I was alone she was interacting with me. I didn’t mind it helped me get lost in the experience. After the song finished she asked me if I danced? The former improv training in me said “of course” (always say yes is the rule) and she took me to a circle where now an actor who looked like the narcoleptic Argentinian was singing a song I confess I didn’t recognise. I actually can hold my own in the dance floor. Rhythm comes quite naturally to me, however my stamina is not what it used to be and after 5 minutes of dancing I was pooped.
I went to investigate this large wall tha had thousands of names and a door man said those where all the “patrons” and then we started chatting. He informed me he was the doorman for Harold Zidler and would let me meet him if I had a talent. Dancing was the only thing that came to mind and of course he wanted to se something. I didn’t my trademark shuffle ball change and he clapped with glee and guided me backstage where right as we were walking in there Zidler was. I know these guys are actors but I was so into the experience I actually got start struck for a quick second. The door man informed Zidler I was in my own and I was a dancer. He then proceeded to give me a special note to tell the guard by the VIP bar that I have been upgraded! I was over the moon I couldn’t believe all the interactions
I said my good byes and headed back to the food call where the elephant stage was. I enjoyed some more music and then Roxane came on. The Argentinian was singing and there was a professional dancer, beautiful ebony skin and blue dress swaying to the music. I was doing my own thing and then just happened to turn and “square up” like you would in a paso doble (yes I watched strictly come dancing thank you very much and I can fake it)
Well I was worried she would think I was upstaging her when to my surprise she faced me and we start to do this sudo paso tango hybrid dance. I never touch her because I’m like isn’t there rules and things. Next thing I know the Argentinian is now dancing with me and then takes me on stage. This whole time hand in heart I completely forget I’m in a room full of 100s of people. It was never a “oh I want all eyes on me” not I just get lost in music and performances everyone disappears. Probably the only time in my life I’m not self conscious. We end our tango and people clap and he ask me my name and I give my character name over the microphone. We say our goodbyes and I figure now is the time to go to the VIP bar. I have some sort of cocktail and catch my breath. It’s been such an amazing night and I haven’t even watched the film yet.
About 10 minutes later lady marmalade starts playing and I have to get back and dance with the crowd and this is when people lose their shit! By this point I don’t care I’m out of breath we are singing to our hearts content and then right after a conga line starts to rhyme of the night and over 100 people start to snake their way around this dance hall. After the song finishes I decided to get in line and buy some desperately earned food. I get a hotdog and a drink and eat.
Finally the bell told and it’s getting dark and the diamonds are a girls bestfrend holly wood version starts to play but then we are all starting to be heard do to the market area. There slowly we make our way to a room that was hidden from sight earlier has now revealed itself and we are all making our ways to the actual theatre. Nirvana “entertain us” of course leading the charge. And then we all end in the theatre where we dance to the can can and the room comes off!!!
After some house rules I make my way to my seating area and get a front row seat on the balcony and get rest for the film to start. I was so happy to be resting and sitting after th two hours of welcomed chaos that just ensued. Various parts of the film are acted out with the performers and we are all singing along. When it came foe the Satine performance she really did come out of the ceiling and really did circle over the audience just like the films. She even fell into the mans arms just like the film!
But sadly I knew I couldn’t stay until the end. I needed to head back to Brighton and I knew it would take me just an hour to get to Victoria station. Plus I knew how the film ends and I saw all my favourite bits
So I bid farewell to Montmartre and headed home but with one of the best experiences of my life! I don’t know if I will ever do secret cinimea again because this was so special and with it being a performing piece it just word and I still get a smile on my face when I think about it. Much needed joy and escap from a hard couple of years.