I’ve been to a couple of Secret Cinema’s prior to this week’s, including last year’s Back To The Future event. The classic Michael J Fix movie was perfect for recreating. The town of Hill Valley, the diner, the clock tower, the road, the high-school, the iconic characters like Dr. Brown and Biff, and of course the DeLorean, gave the creative team behind Secret Cinema so much to work reference to create a fun interactive film event. I did wonder how they’d ever top it in future though? What any other film lend itself as well?
Apart from the small section at the beginning of the movie where you see them in the car on route to their destination, Dirty Dancing is predominantly set at a holiday resort called Kellermans. It’s far easier to recreate an authentic feeling when youre not having to recreate various different destinations and locations. In essence all the team had to do was recreate the lush green retreat with the Catskills mountain.
Unfortunately this was the first flaw. We had to walk through some wooded areas before entering the main site, so we did have a few minutes of feeling like we were truly out of the hubbub of the city, but the main site itself just felt a bit stark. I always think of the impressive tress, the golf course, the lakes where people are doing sport activities and paddling, as well as the lake where they practice the infamous lift. This felt too much like a plain old field. I understand it’s tricky with all the laws, permits, healthy and safety rules and so on, but it just didn’t quite capture it the feel of Kellermans, or at least how I always imagined it’d feel – like a post centre parka.
The run up
For very busy people it might feel there there’s a bit too much faff to go through. You’ll get emails saying you need to register as a guest, upload profile pictures, pick a check in time, prints your check in card etc.If you look at it from a positive angle though, they are trying to incorporate things that will make you really feel like you are checking into a genuine holiday destination. We did come unstuck at one point though. Are order confirmation had the time 5.00pm on it. When my friends went to put the check in time on the registration (via their phones) it wouldn’t allow them to do it they could only pick 4.30. So I emailed to explain that they struggled to put in ocrrect time using the website on their phone – I didn’t get a reply in time. I had to pick a different time when I went to register as the 4.30 was no longer an option, meaning I was now registered as entering at a different time to my group of friends. I emailed again in the end being told it couldn’t be changed. Luckily due to the chaos at the meeting point of Leyton station the time difference didn’t make a difference.
It’s very helpful that they have a store on the website where you can buy costumes for the event, as not everyone has the time to hunt round the shops or online to find Dirty Dancing ensembles. I ordered my Penny outfit from there and was very happy with the service and product. Someone on the day even said I looked like her which was lovely! Mission accomplished!
The decision to have us meet outside Leyton station was a very poor one. The area was jam packed with people, but no one seemed to know what the plan was, and it wasn’t until a few minutes after our allotted time that someone shouting in a Kellermans T-shirt instructed us and lead us to the destination of the Secret Cinema. We all had been informed to wait, but everyone was asking each other what exactly we should be looking out – it would have been helpful to have someone there waiting before we arrived who could control the situation a bit, or at least have had some clear signs indicating where we should congregate. It was the people who weren’t attending the event I felt truly bad for, it was incredibly hard for anyone to leave or access the station. It felt particularly unsafe and unfair when a blind man attempted to get out of the station. Luckily one kind Dirty Dancing guest offered to help him through the chaos. This needs to be rethought – I would have thought with health and safety being such a thing they would have thought of a better place to meet than outside the entrance to a public station.
The walk to the location was just a bit too far – perhaps some American holidays style buses may have been a nice touch. Getting there we didn’t mind too much as I hadn’t brought too much with me to carry and the excitement was feeling us. However knowing the length of the walk back to station we had to leave the event fairly early to ensure we made our last train – and this was the case for may of the guests.
Food and Drink
When we first got on to the site and did a quick tour we were blown away by the amount of yummy food option s- there were so many things we needed to try that we decided, there and then, to deal with the fact we would be having 3 dinners. The results were fairly mixed when we actually got round to sampling the food though. It was great that I had the option to get a veggie chilli, but unfortunately that stalls sweet potato chill came with a distinct lack o the main ingredient – the majority was slightly watery tomatoey sauce on rice – which was disappointing particularly when my chums had hit the jackpot with their pot of posh Man n Cheese (the queues were big…but for a reason). To make up for my disappointment I decided to embark on dinner part 2, opting to queue at the grilled sandwich stand. Another foolish decision. After 20 minutes of queuing a member of staff came to remind us all that they are made to order sandwiches so out of all the food stalls this is the one that will take the longest. Even when I paid my money I was informed It might be another 15 minutes or so. I was getting quite ratty at this stage, but luckily my grilled cheese sandwich with onion chutney was v deliciousm as was their sweet potato fries, although I’m not sure any sandwich is worth that much standing. Other food on site includes bagles (which looked amazing), burgers, Hallumi Fries, Ice Cream, Brownies and some very fancy marshmallows that you can melt on the fire – my friend Ellie treated herself to one Raspberry and Champagne one (£1.50 each).
There was a nice selection of themed drinks and cocktails at the bars, but I wish they had catered more to non drinkers at the bars, perhaps with some fun mocktails too. On the upside when I requested they do one of their concoctions minus the gin they were happy to oblige. There is soft drinks but they’re just not listed clearly alongside the alcoholic drinks.
The queues for the bars can get very long. We tried to be clever and buy multiple drinks each time with the thought process we could save one bottle for later. Unfortunately at a couple of the main bars they took the lids off all drinks so we ended up having to carry multiple open bottles at one time which was very inconvenient, and rather annoying. It was particularly annoying when we noticed it wasn’t the same rules throughout the site – at least be consistently annoying!
When we had a little search on twitter we saw people mention that you should make sure you go to the staff quarters when you’re at the event. In the film you will remember this scene as where Baby helps Billy carry the Watermelon to then find herself in the steamy room with all the dance staff unwind and dance in that filthier way. It’s the moment she see’s Johnny Dancy with Penny and has a go for herself with slightly embarrassing results. As this is a pivotal and iconic scene we were expected big things for this section of the site. We liked how you had to get passed security and that you were meant to give a password as it made it feel exclusive and a bit naughty. The managed to create that dim, sticky and steamy feel to the dancing area too. Unfortunately though it missed the vital ingredient…..the Dirty Dancing. We were hoping it would feature actors/dancers recreating the dance moves from that scene, and that we’d hear the songs we so love from that part of the movie. Sadly it was juts full of people like us, who looked fairly awkward and at a loss of what to do. Yes, some were dancing, but we wanted to see some professionals getting down and dirty, so we could truly feel how Baby felt when she stepped into that sexy place. A lot of effort had been put into the look of this section though, so that was still fairly impressive to see and helped set the scene.
I did love the little sneaky opening at the side of this barn like structure so that people could peak in and get a glimpse of the ‘dirty’ activities inside.
There were some very cute little details dotted around the site and references nerds of the films would relish. I loved the little bands stands where you could see ‘Penny’ leading some classes and congas, or talent shows taking place that were encouraging gutsy guests to take part. There were cute quiet spots where you could take a few minutes out to do some crafting and small areas where you could throw ropes towards targets. As cute as these things were, they could have been done on a grander scale to accommodate the volume of guests. I would have liked to have seen a wig try on session like we see in the movie too.
I would have liked to seen a bit more of the wooden lodges because for me they are major part of the movie. It’s where Baby and Johnny have their sexy time, where Penny reveals the heartbreaking things she is going through and where she recovers with the help of Baby’s Dad. It’s also where you learn about Robbie and about Vivien. There were a few mocked up, but it would have been nice to maybe sit in them as if we were residents or staff of Kellermans.
The lack of lake seemed odd. fThe scene where they balance on the log and where they practice lifts in the way are so iconic it felt weird that there wasn’t an area dedicated to that moment. I understand that location and health and safety probably had a big part to play in it’s absence but I’m sure there could have been a clever adaptation.
We liked that they had actors playing the significant characters walking around or driving through the space during the event. We happened to be located right near the reception when Baby and her family drove up and met by Max (the hotel boss) with Billy helping to take the luggage out of the car. We also felt weirdly excited seeing the character of Neil on reception being his patronising young fogey self. When Baby said hello to me when her and her family passed me I behaved like it was Britney Spears who had just acknowledged me….I had clearly gotten caught up in the magic of it all.
Pretty much as soon as we got on site my friend Alice was grabbed by the hand by a male dancer in tight neige chinos and brought over to one of the dances classes taking place by one of the band stands. The dancers were so enthusiastic you couldn’t help but feel jolly and get into the spirit of it all.But if this sort of participation is your idea of hell, don’t worry it is quite easy to dodge if you so wish.
While you watch the movie the scenes will be recreated underneath and to the sides of the screen. There will also be moments where cars come through the crowd of film viewers too. This helps to create that 3D interactive nature of secret cinema. The sections where the dancers did the big dance moments like Johnny and Penny’s Mambo was excellent. But it just made you think they should have used these fabulous dancers a bit more. I would have loved to have seen them do dancing of this quality when I visited the staff quarters.
To be honest with you, whatever the event was like, me and the girls simply loved having an excuse to get dressed up in the Dirty Dancing garb. We had weeks of discussing which looks we were thinking of attempting to recreate, swapping screen grabs from videos, gifs and google Images. We helped each other find current day examples on the high street too, sending each other links to items on the likes of Forever 21, Topshop, American Apparel and Boohoo which were nailing the looks at a fairly affordable price. Sometimes you get caught up in work and everyday admin you forget to check in with your mates, so having this on our calendar, and having things we needed to plan meant that we were in regular contact.
We did have a fantastic night, but we did all come away thinking that the event had a lot of missed opportunities. Things that could have been more authentic, better thought out for instance, as well as those notable aspects that were completely omitted. We couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if it had rained either!? It would have been pretty miserable. Thankfully were were very lucky on our evening.
I do wish they’d start the film a little earlier though as due to the location we had to leave way before the big finale and the ‘nobody put’s baby in the corner’ line, which seems a bit unfair considering how much the tickets are. Instead of starting it at 9.15ish an 8 o clock start would mean most people could stay for the entire movie and get what they paid for. It still leaves you with plenty of time to enjoy the rest of what the event has to offer.
You can’s overestimate how much fun it is to watch a film with an audience of people who love it just as much as you do. We found a lot of joy to be had in hearing people reciting the big lines, singing along to the songs, seeing Patrick’s back muscles, booing the bad guys (like Robbie) and cheering when people gives some sass and attitude. Being around fellow Dirty Dancing geeks is what really made the night for us.
P.S To maintain the secret nature of the events they don’t allow you to use your phone/camera. I saw one girl get a stern telling off for even facetiming so I’d say it’s not worth the risk. However there are disposable cameras for £7.50 that you can buy when you’re there.