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License to thrill? Our verdict on Secret Cinema’s ‘Casino Royale’

Written by
Alex Godfrey

Secret Cinema is back with a new 007 extravaganza, ‘Casino Royale’. We sent ‘Juniper Blackthorn’ – AKA Alex Godfrey – to give his verdict.

‘Ooh, it’s a shootout,’ says a young woman in front of me, 50 percent curious, zero percent fearful of witnessing any actual murder. We’re somewhere masquerading as somewhere exotic, and sure enough, right by the bar two men are suddenly trying to kill each other. Hordes of us glammed-up punters are screamed at to take cover, while fake blood is shed. Shootout over, the young woman saunters over the bar to size up the cocktails. At Secret Cinema’s take on ‘Casino Royale’, we can all afford James Bond’s nonchalance.

Is there anything else quite like this? 007 fits Secret Cinema like an evil henchman’s glove. As ever, it takes place in a secret London location (the SC spoiler police are cat-stroking psychopaths, so that’s all you’re getting here), but this year’s extravaganza is a fun night out on its own terms thanks to the Bond locales (again, if I tell you, I’ll be tortured where it hurts the most). It is a sprawling sandbox in which you’re taken to glitzy corners of the world to partake in glamorous espionage activities, but if you’re less inclined to interact, the design and decoration is impressive enough for you to just hang out in the shadows and drink it in.

If you do want to get your hands dirty, arriving early pays off. If you do want to get your hands dirty, arriving early pays off. Having assumed an undercover alias online – I became media mogul Juniper Blackthorn, a millionaire many times over thanks to my music licensing company – I got there at 6pm. The place was barely populated, and as such I was hustled from country to country by a troupe of frankly wonderful actors persuading me to do things I don’t get up to on a regular basis. Getting into it with them is all sorts of fun – they have their scripts, but every moment involves you extracting info for MI6 on your own terms, and you can throw your own spanners into the works. It is genuinely immersive theatre which barely feels like theatre at all, such is its engagement and intimacy. Angus Jackson, who worked at the RSC, recently directing Coriolanus for them, is Creative Director here, and it’s thrilling work.

Finally, there is the film itself. In the cold light of 2019 it doesn’t feel like the radical reinvention it once seemed, especially after the heightened action of the recent ‘Mission: Impossible’ and the exhilarating combat of the ‘John Wick’ films. Yet it is still a blast. Secret Cinema’s theatrical shenanigans alongside the screening amuse, impress and distract to various degrees. On this night, though, this world delivers.

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