Feel the Force of London's Immersive Experiences

As Secret Cinema strikes back with Star Wars, take a look at London's immersive experiences, from food to theatre, so you can excape from reality

Continuing throughout the summer, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is the latest blockbuster title to hit London in an unusual format. But what has led to this craze?

London is leading an entertainment revolution. A few bold pioneers are changing the face of theatre, cinema, art and even food and drink, turning us from passive spectators into active participants. It’s not always obvious: from bars styled like clandestine speakeasies to immersive experiences in normally disused buildings, most operate through word of mouth, retaining an edgy, underground vibe and relying on social media to spread the message.

Bugsy Malone as an interactive experience, London, UK
Bugsy Malone as an interactive experience, complete with splurge guns (©The Found Collective)

One of the prime movers in this new movement is Secret Cinema, whose slogan ‘Tell No One’, with more than 100,000 people a year attending its events. It turned an East End warehouse into a futuristic LA complete with nightclub and Chinese noodle bars to screen Blade Runner; transformed the whole of Alexandra Palace into a desert outpost with cavalry and camels for Lawrence of Arabia; and last year attracted 80,000 people to a 1950s town, diner, high school, clock tower and all, for Back to the Future. Throughout the summer, from early June until 27 September, Secret Cinema aims to top them all by recreating a galaxy far, far away somewhere in London, for a special screening of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

Back to the Future, London, UK
A 1950s American town was recreated for the Back To The Future event (©Camilla Greenwell)

Star Wars is one of the best-loved films of all time – it has ignited thousands of creative careers,’ says Secret Cinema founder Fabien Riggall. ‘We’re not doing this lightly. We’re going deep inside it to match the emotion people feel for it.’

A costumed cast of 200 will interact with audiences each night inside a vast set. Exact details must remain, as ever, secret in order to retain the feeling of mystery and anticipation that is central to the Secret Cinema experience. But why is London leading the way?

‘London is so full of creative energy in so many disciplines,’ Fabien says. ‘What we are doing is not just cinema, it’s theatre, live music, art, food. We have done 45 productions in the past 10 years, including our sister brand Future Cinema: that’s 45 unusual and unused buildings we have found.’ But is the event value for money? Even the new record price of £75 hasn’t stopped thousands buying tickets. Fabien is unapologetic about the price hike, saying that it all goes into making an extraordinary night. 


He has also been talking to leading film-makers and musicians about how to make a new kind of art that ‘creates a direct link between artists and audiences and blurs the lines between them’.

It soon becomes clear why Star Wars is such a personal project for him: the big corporations are like the Death Star. ‘The Rebel Alliance represents fighting for a world of mystery, excitement and adventure,’ Fabien says, ‘a world of quests and dreams. That represents the ethos of Secret Cinema.’

Star Wars set
The Star Wars film promises to be a unique experience when it comes to London (©Star Wars/Disney)

Enjoy more London immersive experiences…

The Escape Hunt Experience
Play the part of a famous London detective solving mysteries set in an old house in the City of London. Players are locked in a room and made to feel as if they are in a computer game, searching for clues. https://escapehunt.com/uk/

The Escape Hunt Experience
An event for any wannabe Sherlock Holmes (courtesy The Escape Hunt Experience)

Against Captain’s Orders
Punchdrunk Enrichment, the UK’s foremost immersive theatre company, has created a show for six to 12-year-olds. Don a lifejacket and join a ship’s crew on an amazing journey through history in the heart of Greenwich’s National Maritime Museum. To 31 Aug; www.rmg.co.uk

Faulty Towers Experience, London, UK
the Dining Experience)

Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience
John Cleese’s much-loved 1970s sitcom comes to life on the Strand. Enjoy a three-course meal of retro dishes while you split your sides at the antics of the bumbling Basil Fawlty, his dragon of a wife, Sybil, and the hapless waiter, Manuel. www.faultytowers.net

The Generationof Z: Apocalypse
Dare you enter a post-apocalyptic urban wasteland in the basement of an old Whitechapel department store? You have 75 minutes in which to escape the zombie hordes – or risk joining the ranks of the Living Dead.
To 5 Jul; www.thegenerationofz.com

Buy tickets for Secret Cinema here

See more London entertainment listings here