Poor old Secret Cinema. Their ambitious plan to recreate the whole of Back to the Future’s Hill Valley, as part of their latest immersive cinema experience, started out blighted by problems which led to the first week being cancelled. Those of us with tickets started to worry that not only would the whole event not happen, but that we might not see our money again. What should have been an event to look forward to was suddenly looking like a less-than-fun prospect.
We attended the event on the 7th August, following several days of the event successfully going ahead after those early cancellations. However, our fancy dress plans had been put on hold as we were unsure whether the event would happen at all, so our costumes were a little half-hearted compared to many of our fellow attendees, leaving us wishing we had made more of an effort. Luckily this proved to be our only slight disappointment of the evening.
I will abide by the unofficial pact to keep key details of the event secret, as half of the joy was the surprise of some elements, but the whole evening was one of pure joy. From the moment you arrive at Hackney Wick station to be guided by be-sashed Secret Cinema marshalls to your final destination, right until the moment you can get your phones back after the event, was well-thought out and designed to entertain.
We left the event grinning from ear to ear having sung, danced, seen pyrotechnics and stunts along with lots of surprises which I will leave a mystery. It felt a lot like being in a grown-up (ish) cross between Disneyland and Comic-con. Well worth the time, money and early worries for an evening of pure joy.
Here are a few tips if you’re heading to Hill Valley over the remaining run (and I urge you to buy a ticket if you still can)
Top Tips for future Hill Valley residents
Do dress up, but be practical!
Everyone had really made an effort with their 1950’s look, so not to do so leaves you feeling a little left out. However, we also saw lots of people looking a little blue as the cold evening drew in and they were bare-armed. Treat the event like a festival and ensure you take layers of clothing to put on later in the evening. Also take a brolly and something waterproof to sit on.
Make sure you have cash
The tickets cost £55 each, and prices on site are similarly expensive. Food ranges from £6 and up, but it is drinks where you will feel the pinch, so make sure you have plenty of cash. You can’t take any food or drink in with you, so forget that picnic idea you may have had.
The food in the diner is great, and worth the wait
There can be long queues for the food in the diner, and there are additional food stalls available in the area by the fairground, but I’d say it is worth the wait. They only do one thing, cheeseburger and fries (OK, and cheesecake, but I didn’t have that), but boy are they good. You can accompany your meal with, among other things, a milkshake, either soft or alcoholic. I’d advise getting the chocolate shake and watching what happens.
The actors won’t make you cringe- talk to them
I have a morbid fear of being interacted with, and find it utterly cringe-worthy to be forced to have fun, a fact which hit me as I entered the venue. I was horrified at the thought of any of the actors coming up to get me involved in the action. However, I needn’t have been worried at all, as they are all brilliant and won’t make your toes curl with embarrassment.
Explore- there is a lot to see
Again, without giving too much away, there is a lot going on at the Hill Valley fair, if you go and look for it. The film itself starts just after 9pm, so you have 3-4 hours to kill before it starts. We found we weren’t bored for a single moment and found lots to explore, watch and interact with.
Do get your spot for the film early, but don’t be a turf hog
Due to some of the… err… happenings, all Hill Valley residents have to sit on the astroturf and avoid the road areas around the outside. We perched on the ‘hedges’ around the outside and got a good view, but wished we had been to the left of the screen as that’s where some key action seemed to be taking place. Lots of people had taken picnic blankets to mark our their territory early, which was fairly pointless as they not only ended up with other people on their blankets (thousands of people have to fit on here, dudes) but were often trapped in the middle where the view wasn’t as good.
Don’t use your phone- you will be thrown out
You are asked to hand your ‘communication devices’ in on entering the venue, but can keep them on you if you have any potential emergency situations. However, don’t get your phone out on site as you will be thrown out by one of the eagle-eyed marshalls. It also adds to the experience to not be watching everything through the lens of your smartphone. You can also buy disposable cameras in the telegraph office, and have your photo taken by professional photographers in key locations, so don’t fret.
Above all, enjoy your trip to Hill Valley, we sure did.
Tickets for some dates were still available at the time of writing here.