Today I bring you London Love; a series of posts that I intend to run sharing things, events, places and moments that sum up my love for this incredible city.
Secret Cinema is an institution that has sprung up in London over the last few years. The concept is simple; chose a film, keep it secret and then put on a show so immersive that filmgoers feel like they are living the film. They experience the location, mingle with actors, absorb the atmosphere...and then watch the film. Beforehand, no one knows what the film is, and as the date approaches, the audience receives clues: what to wear, what they should bring and a secret location in which to meet. Their website is pretty and so I recommend having a little poke around and watching their video if you're interested.
So that's the idea. Actually, the one that the boyfriend took me to was a little different as we knew the film in advance. The Grand Budapest Hotel is still in cinemas and Secret Cinema were heavily involved in its UK release by running their event. That did not lessen the experience at all as I knew it was a film I loved.
A week or so beforehand, I knew I needed to dress for the occasion. So that's 1930s evening dress. It is a luxury hotel after all. We were also asked to fill out a hotel guest card, identification papers (necessary for travel on the continent especially with impending war) and we were invited to bring along some flowers. Pink ones.
Sunday found me dressed somewhat inappropriately for a drizzly grey afternoon, if aptly attired for a 30s evening, and loitering on an underground platform. I received a text from the boyfriend: "I'm in the front carriage of the next train" and so I scooted down the platform to hop onto the approaching tube. Once we alighted at the right stop, we saw more and more people dressed as we were and bunches of pink flowers from trailing orchids to huge ostentatious lilies started to seem commonplace. I clutched my little bunch of sweetheart roses, to which I'd added a bow for good measure, and we joined the queue.
Upon arrival, we were required to surrender our communication devices and cameras (NO!!!!) and escorted in groups to the funicular railway. Inside the carriage, the concierge welcomed us to the hotel, described a few sights we may be interested in viewing and then the lobby boy lead us from the railway carriage into the hotel lobby.
It was spectacular: draped in swathes of pink and 4 stories high with balconies overlooking the welcome desk. This was circular and took pride of place in the middle of room and was manned constantly by hotel employees all clad in vibrant purple tailcoats. All the hotel staff were unfailing polite as we set out to explore. Maids in purple dresses and crisp, white aprons would bow as we passed and the concierge was "delighted to see us back again; our usual room was ready".
The different levels of the hotel held different surprises in store. Bedroom doors had peep-holes to look through and admire - or snigger at - the interiors. It's astonishing what goes on behind closed doors. Numerous bars served cocktails and champagne and we sampled their delights most willingly. Scattered about were chaises longues, stuffed animals, pianos and enormous ferns. The staff were constantly carting about capacious suitcases to comic effect and often engaged guests in conversation.
We took the elevator just to see where it went and emerged in the spa. Kicking off our shoes (and hoiking up the bottom of my dress) we waded into the pool filled with blue gel beads. Cold and squishy and knee deep in the middle, they were impossible to wade through and delightful. We perched on the side as the spa attendant invited us; "Do come in darlings! It's absolutely invigorating and so good for the skin and the circulation". We eventually clamered out, dried off and reassumed our shoes before heading back to the elevator.
One of my favourite things was standing on the balcony watching the hive of activity in the lobby. Guests arriving and signing the guest book (you never know if they're real guests or actors), the repositioning of a fearsome stuffed bear and a slightly less-fearsome badger. One of the guests collapsed near the welcome desk and was immediately surrounded by puple-festooned employees calling for oxygen and a doctor. The lobby boys promptly retrieved all the plants and placed them around her as she feebly fanned herself, a waiter sprinkled water over her and the maids flapped their aprons to create a draft. She was eventually carried to a chaise longue.
A waltz lesson was announced and we hurried down into the lobby. Lead by a very grand looking guest indeed, hundreds of us took up positions in the lobby, waving our arms to the live music played by the ensemble gathered on a first-floor platform. We whirled about, completely caught up in the music while the leader, now standing on the welcome desk called for us to skip around the lobby and waltz by ourselves before finally grabbing a partner and waltzing faster and faster around the lobby, spinning around and around the welcome desk. As the music rose to a pitch, snow fell and I couldn't breathe for laughing and dancing.
I've never seen anything like it. Talk about immersive theatre. I think I need to move to a luxury hotel in the 30s and dance every night. It was almost a relief to then be guided to the film. We stopped for a hot chocolate with Bailey's before entering the ballroom and being shown to our seats for the screening. The film was as excellent as I remembered and it was entertaining to be reminded of details that secret cinema had borrowed for the experience.
After the film, we had a final cocktail before heading off into the night.
It's worth noting that prices have risen somewhat as Secret Cinema gains in popularity and new screenings tend to sell out fairly quickly. But the experience was unique; I was entranced for the whole night and loved every single surreal moment.
P.S. When can I go again?