This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.
With a ‘wop ba-ba lu-bop' and a ‘wop bam boom', Secret Cinema has arrived in the Midlands. The immersive cinema event has been wowing crowds in London since 2007 when it was created by Fabien Riggall. From film screenings in abandoned London buildings, Secret Cinema has evolved into a full-scale production with spectacular set pieces, eye-catching costumes, and engaging performances that create a 360-degree experience for attendees.
And in its first foray out of the capital, Secret Cinema is currently delighting crowds at Birmingham NEC taking them on a trip to Rydell High as they recreate the world of Grease. For those unfamiliar with the 1978 musical – and if so, where have you been? – the film follows Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) and Danny Zuko (John Travolta) as they meet in the summer of 1958 and part ways, but not for long as Sandy's parents ditch their plan to move back to Australia and instead continue their stay in America, with Sandy enrolling at Rydell High.
There, she meets the Pink Ladies where she recounts her meeting with Danny, and the girls immediately recognise him as a fellow student. They arrange a surprise reunion between the pair at the school's pep rally, though in front of his group of friends – The T Birds – he plays it cool and hurts Sandy's feelings. Will they be able to rekindle their romance before school is out?
For the event, Secret Cinema has recreated the world of Rydell with a replica of the school itself, the garage where a shabby 1948 Ford De Luxe convertible becomes Greased Lightning, and the iconic fayre we see at the end of the film. As soon as you step foot on the grounds of the venue you are transported back to the fifties with so many little details bringing the film to life, from leaflets on school desks to the sound of Vince Fontaine playing over the airwaves.
What truly immerses the audience into the world of Grease is the fantastic work of the cast playing the characters of the film, who undergo intense training in the run-up to the event focusing on their accents and mannerisms to fully embody the role. And the hard work shows when you find yourself on edge passing Mrs Murdock in the school hall, and weak at the knees when the T-Birds flash you a smile.
There are plenty of pop-up events to delight and excite attendees, from impromptu choir practices and the chance to hand jive at the big school dance. The atmosphere is nothing short of electric as you are pulled into some of the film's most memorable scenes, made all the more impactful by the amount of visitors that choose to don their finest fifties gear and put in as much enthusiasm as the cast.
The result is a nostalgia-fuelled romp that can feel overwhelmingly emotional for fans of the film as the passion the creators of Secret Cinema is visible in every inch of the event, and it feels so special to share that love. After the high-octane fun is over, the cherry on top of the milkshake is a screening of the critically acclaimed musical as the sun sets – a magical experience for any Grease fan.
Secret Cinema is a must-see event for any film fans bringing classic pictures to life like never before. It brings human connection into the art of cinema and combines a passion for these much-loved films with an immersive experience that is unmatched. If this inaugural event is anything to go by, Secret Cinema is going to get plenty of Summer Lovin' from the people of Birmingham.
Secret Cinema Presents Grease: The Live Experience is at Birmingham NEC until August 13.