First published on 27 Jul 2012. Updated on 29 Jan 2014.
The bus pulls up, SWAT soldiers pour out. We jostle with the discordant crowd of refugees and desperately wave our transit papers. The guards shout us into our seats and we set off.
To the cinema. But not a cinema as you would know it.
Underground Cinema presents an unknown film and builds around it a world of characters and theatrics that brings the experience down from the screen. Multiple sold-out sessions have been held in Sydney and Melbourne. Those with tickets are sent only a scant amount of key information via text and email in the days before the show. This time around the theme is ‘hope’, and the dress code ‘foreign’.
As we vacate the bus – which picked us up at the seemingly innocuous Kensington Station – our band of refugees is directed past snapping guard dogs and cages of huddled, beaten figures. The twin feelings of anticipation and doom increase while these prisoners thrust scribbled messages to us through the bars, and the guards berate us. Finally, we're marched into a chaotic shanty town (a cunningly disguised Revolt), complete with a shifty crew of wheeling and dealing locals, a queue for booze and a soup kitchen.
Those who haven't dressed up wish they had, because this tremendous type of theatre demands audience participation. The volunteer performers, commendable for their bizarre variety of accents and personas, immerse you in this dark setting. As someone thrusts you a bag of oregano and urgently whispers for you to keep it safe, it’s pretty easy to forget you’re there to see a movie.
Finally in our seats, we’re greeted by the opening titles of… Did you guess? Children of Men – Alfonso Cuarón’s futuristic dystopia, and possibly the most gripping sci-fi film of the last decade.
Underground Cinema is a night to thrill on many levels, where the audience is part of their own experience. Their next mysterious event in September will certainly sell out, so if being the film appeals more than just watching it, play close attention to the Underground Cinema website.
Photos by: Daniel John Bilsborough