Secret Cinema has, over the past decade or so, pioneered the concept of “live cinema”, transforming film into a uniquely dynamic performance, and encouraging thousands of punters to hand over cash without ever knowing what film they were going to see. It plunges film fans into a live interactive theatre space, directly relevant to forthcoming film screening, and elevates the experience of watching a film beyond slumping in front of a DVD. The people behind it, Future Cinema, have been branching out with further events, and this latest line on their increasingly impressive CV is ideal for those who don’t like surprises. Future Cinema presents Casablanca removes the element of mystery but retains most of the winning Secret Cinema formula.
Like Secret Cinema, there is an element of playful participation, inviting us not to be passive observers but active contributors to the event. Weeks before, I receive an email from ‘Rick’, giving details of the location and dress code – a white tuxedo or trenchcoat is encouraged; I’m relieved that I at least made the effort to slap on a shirt and tie on the day as there are some seriously well-dressed couples in the queue. (And it is mostly couples – Casablanca is a canny choice around Valentine’s Day). Those foolish enough not suit up, or who do not have the correct ‘papers’, are pulled from the line and berated by actors dressed as soldiers from 1940s French Morocco.
Once we get past ‘security’, we make our way inside, and it’s a little like stepping back in time to the 1940s, give or take a few camera phones. We’re in ‘Rick’s Café Americain’, a faithful recreation of the famous film setting, well-suited to the Troxy’s authentic art deco interior. A smartly-dressed band play some jazz and swing standards (including songs featured in the film, like ‘Knock On Wood’). Dancers in tiny sequinned dresses accompany them on stage with a Lindy Hop. Sam is there, in his fedora, and he does indeed play it again, on a jangly old piano. A few patrons are trying their luck at a casino, where occasionally a cheer will go up from the roulette table.
As with all of Future Cinema’s events, the attention to detail is tremendous, and the effect is entirely immersive. This particular event feels more relaxed than previous Secret Cinema outings – the last season, which screened The Shawshank Redemption, had filmgoers dressed up in prison gear and thrown into cells for insubordination. The lack of surprise and a classier setting made this more like a jolly evening out, albeit one punctuated by actors fighting and shooting prop guns at each other. There was no prison slop here: we sipped elegant cocktails and ate delicious Moroccan food from Exmouth Market’s Moro restaurant.
And then, after nearly three hours of chic live music and snippets of theatre, we sat down at the lampshaded tables and watched Casablanca. The confirmed classic has lost none of sits wistful romantic muster, and indeed is only enhanced by the surroundings. You can practically hear the sound of a thousand hearts ache by the time Bogart’s “hill of beans” speech rolls around. That this run has just been extended is no accident. We’ve said it before: you won’t find a better filmgoing experience in London.
Future Cinema presents Casablanca runs until March 23rd.