Sky News travels back in time to 1985 to visit Hawkins, Indiana, and the world of Stranger Things at Secret Cinema.
Wearing a shoulder-pads and white boots power ensemble that is part Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, part Gordon Gekko, I have arrived in Hawkins, Indiana, in 1985.
This is Secret Cinema does Stranger Things, an immersive production that plants you firmly in the world of everyone’s favourite Demogorgon-fighting teenagers.
A secret location in London (we were given instructions just a few days prior) has been turned into the shiny new Starcourt Mall, complete with an arcade, a store for all your 80s fashion needs – think braces, neon shades and fingerless gloves – and of course, the best ice-cream in town at Scoops Ahoy.
This is the first time Secret Cinema has done TV; previous productions have been films including Moulin Rouge, Blade Runner and James Bond’s Casino Royale, with fans entering the movies’ worlds before settling down to watch them in full. For its first foray into the small screen, what could be a better choice than Netflix’s nostalgic sci-fi juggernaut, which has become a global phenomenon since its launch in 2016.
We have all been given a mission: for my night in Hawkins, I am Samantha “Dirt-Eater” Goodwin (never did find out how I earned that one), a former mathlete who was voted most likely to rob a Gas N Go when I was a student at Hawkins High, according to my yearbook. I even have a favourite film (Poltergeist) and song (Prince, Controversy).
Now, apparently, I am an “esteemed” Hawkins News Network senior correspondent. Tonight is the Independence Day reunion, and I’m here to keep my ears to the ground and “get the greatest scoop”.
The attention to detail is incredible. The mall has been painstakingly reproduced, a soundtrack of classic 80s hits blasts out and everyone is in character, from the uncannily well-cast lookalike actors playing the big parts – Mike, Steve, Dustin, Billy, Lucas, Hopper, Joyce and various eras of Eleven – to the staff taking your coats, the pizza counter workers, and the perky aerobics instructor enthusiastically leading a class mid-mall, Jane Fonda style.
But this isn’t just a peak into the world of Stranger Things, like a visit to a set. You are part of it, helping to create the theatrical experience, for others around you as much as yourself. Like Dustin, we are all on a curiosity voyage.
So, you can put in as little or as much effort as you like. If role play isn’t really your thing, have a mooch around Hawkins and just soak up all the 80s with a coke float in hand. But if you accept your mission, embrace your character, chat to, say, Jim* at the arcade, you get to find out what’s really going on in Hawkins. If you’ve seen Stranger Things, you’ll know there’s a lot going on in Hawkins. If you’ve not, well, this might not be the night out for you.
All phones are sealed, meaning your attention is fully on the experience. And this is the 80s, remember; you don’t want to scare anyone with gadgets from the future.
My editor Nicky “Face-Sucker” Evans (actually my workmate Sanya, but let’s not break character) and I find ourselves stumbling upon season one, shaved-head Eleven. Perfect for getting that great scoop, you might think, until you remember that season one, shaved-head Eleven didn’t really talk all that much.
Friends don’t lie, and in this case they don’t say a great deal else either, and it’s here we realise our interactive acting skills, as well as our Hawkins scoop-getting skills, might need some honing, and take a break for a burger.
However, we soon get to meet some other Hawkins residents who are willing to spill. No spoilers here, but the more characters you talk to, the more information you find out, the more secret locations get unlocked. So it’s worth getting involved.
Full disclosure: at times, it can be quite confusing. Should you follow the woman with the big hair and silver jumpsuit as she races off one way, or go and see what those screams are all about, or what that big group over there is so concerned with? Will we have to escape the Upside Down, come face-to-face with a Demagorgon? And how, exactly, did anyone ever consider bright blue eye shadow a flattering look?
But the unknown is all part of the experience, and means every single participant gets a different night out.
With no film to end the evening with, Secret Cinema had to try something different with Stranger Things. With three seasons to cover, it blends the storylines (mainly from seasons one and three).
Without giving anything away, the theatrical finale is an impressive spectacle – as long as you make it out of the Upside Down.
*All names have been changed to protect the innocent. We know what can happen in Hawkins.
:: Secret Cinema presents Stranger Things is on in London until February 2020