Review by Daz Gale
Few musicals have as much of a cultural impact as Grease. 45 years since the movie was first released, it has more than stood the test of time, proving as popular now as ever. With the stage version (which we must remember pre-dates the film) now enjoying its second year in a row at the Dominion Theatre, there is clearly an appetite for this timeless story – so it should come as no surprise that it has become the latest film to get the Secret Cinema treatment, transforming a car park in Birmingham into Rydell High. I went along on a summer night to immerse myself into the world – but did it have me a blast?
I know what you’re thinking “Tell me more. Tell me more” so here’s what you need to know about the event. A trip to Secret Cinema Grease features a very unique screening of the classic movie as well as 90 minutes of activities before the film, where you are encouraged to explore the school and grounds, taking in the gym, auto-shop and sports field. There’s also a carnival – as all good schools should have. Essentially, all the crucial locations from the movie are meticulously recreated, faithfully transporting you into the 1950s theme, extended through the bars on site.
The immersive nature of Grease: The Live Experience lends itself to a joyful evening, with actors portraying characters from the movie mingling with guests and interacting throughout. If you catch a character walking somewhere with purpose, my advice would be to follow them as the chances are they are about to launch into a performance of one of the much-loved songs. From ‘Summer Nights’ on the steps outside the school to ‘Greased Lightnin’ at the auto-shop, the hard working cast perform these live before heading in to the gym for a dance off hosted by Vince Fontaine. It was this which provided the highlight for me, as we witnessed one of the most memorable moments in the movie and joined in ourselves in a room full of people who were very clearly born to hand jive.
The dance contest exploded out into the sports field, getting everybody in the best possible mood before the big screen played the iconic movie in all its glory. Billed as a unique viewing experience, the cast reappeared sporadically throughout, meticulously recreating song and dance numbers as the movie played above them. Seeing this played out in real time really added something fabulous to the proceedings. It’s admirable to bring something new to a movie that many of us (myself included) are hopelessly devoted to, having watched it more times than we can count.
The element that really made the whole aspect fun was the audience themselves. Visitors are encouraged to dress up for the occasion and they clearly didn’t need to be told twice with T-Birds and Pink Ladies covering every inch of the sports field. They got involved with the dance and performance numbers and sung to their hearts content along with the movie. Even if you are the kind of person who is put off by people talking in the cinema, Secret Cinema is a whole other experience and you can’t help but buy into the community aspect and sheer fun of it all. The evening flew by too quickly and was one I wanted to never end.
A couple of minor quibbles I had on the day was the overzealous security who constantly took audience out of the escapism factor. While their job is crucial and they had to move whole sections of the audience to allow the cast to perform, I couldn’t help but compare this to the immersive Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre where this is done in a way that doesn’t take you out of the moment. Perhaps something to consider as the run continues. The other factor is, to an extent, out of their control, and that is the Great British weather. Watching the movie on the sports field, you are completely exposed to the elements. If it does start to pour with rain, you have no choice but to watch a 2 hour movie while getting soaked to the core. Again, out of their control but might be worth considering a contingency plan for days when the weather proves too unmanageable and risks damaging the enjoyment of the evening.
It can’t be said enough how incredible immersive experiences like this are. The attention to detail when it comes to world-building and skill required from a cast staying in character while having to ad-lib has the power to make or break an experience like Grease. This high-quality performance never waivered throughout, creating a well-rounded evening that truly made you believe you were at Rydell High. My advice to anyone going is to dress up, keep your eyes peeled for cast members about to perform, interact and immerse yourself in to the experience to have the most amount of fun and, most importantly, make sure you know how to hand jive.
Admirably created and brilliantly realised, Grease: The Live Experience is an evening like no other. For my first Secret Cinema experience, it instantly showed me while this phenomenon has taken off in recent years. Having had hits with previous productions, Secret Cinema are on to another winner with Grease. Get dressed up, get your friends and go together – after all, there are worse things you could do.
Secret Cinema Presents Grease: The Live Experience plays Outdoors at the NEC, Birmingham until 13th August. Tickets from secretcinema.com