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When in London | Culture, people, things to do and memorable brands
When in London
Cultural Currents

It is no coincidence that London’s cultural scene is currently all about immersion. London has always been a city which envelops its inhabitants, simultaneously encompassing and refracting – you can walk down a single street and watch the city change around you. The political context has only thrown this into sharper relief; is London an island in Britain or a global city with no borders?

These ideas aren’t just playing out politically, but also on a cultural and social level. The trend for immersive experiences is growing, as people play at breaking the rules in a low-stakes, time-bounded environment. Secret Cinema launched Blade Runner after the resounding success of Moulin Rouge the previous year. And at the National Theatre, the immersive Network allowed top-tier attendees to watch the play from an on-stage restaurant, actually becoming part of the performance.

Yet just down the river, Nicholas Hytner’s new theatre The Bridge, despite being the privately funded response to the National, has offered an immersive experience at the cheapest ticket price, with audience members becoming part of the crowd of baying proletariat in Julius Caesar. Typically London, the trend for immersive escapism is telescoping back and forth along the lines of class, community and exclusivity.

 
 
 
 

It is no coincidence that London’s cultural scene is currently all about immersion. London has always been a city which envelops its inhabitants, simultaneously encompassing and refracting – you can walk down a single street and watch the city change around you. The political context has only thrown this into sharper relief; is London an island in Britain or a global city with no borders?

These ideas aren’t just playing out politically, but also on a cultural and social level. The trend for immersive experiences is growing, as people play at breaking the rules in a low-stakes, time-bounded environment. Secret Cinema launched Blade Runner after the resounding success of Moulin Rouge the previous year. And at the National Theatre, the immersive Network allowed top-tier attendees to watch the play from an on-stage restaurant, actually becoming part of the performance.

Yet just down the river, Nicholas Hytner’s new theatre The Bridge, despite being the privately funded response to the National, has offered an immersive experience at the cheapest ticket price, with audience members becoming part of the crowd of baying proletariat in Julius Caesar. Typically London, the trend for immersive escapism is telescoping back and forth along the lines of class, community and exclusivity.

an interesting thing to do

On a social level, immersion is playing out more laterally in the emergence of video and board-game bars all across London, from Hackney’s Draughts, to Dalston’s Loading Bar and Soho’s Belong (which is hidden beneath Game in Wardour Street). There are two fascinating cultural elements surfacing here. A growing popularity for board games demonstrates a need to seek out community in a post-digital world. But community is becoming a key consideration, particularly when you throw traditionally private activities like video games into the mix. These bars represent an emerging space which straddles the intersection between public and private activities, creating a hybrid experience perfectly mirroring London’s own hybrid status.


On a social level, immersion is playing out more laterally in the emergence of video and board-game bars all across London, from Hackney’s Draughts, to Dalston’s Loading Bar and Soho’s Belong (which is hidden beneath Game in Wardour Street). There are two fascinating cultural elements surfacing here. A growing popularity for board games demonstrates a need to seek out community in a post-digital world. But community is becoming a key consideration, particularly when you throw traditionally private activities like video games into the mix. These bars represent an emerging space which straddles the intersection between public and private activities, creating a hybrid experience perfectly mirroring London’s own hybrid status.

One local brand

One brand which has tapped into London’s trend for immersive experiences is Backyard Cinema. Homegrown in London, it genuinely started in the founder’s back garden, but has since grown to become one of the city’s treasures, a roaming cinema with a theatrical bent. As the lines between cinema and theatre blur outside of London (as NT Live brings live theatre to audiences across the country via cinema), in London the opposite is happening. Backyard Cinema has a clear focus on the film programming, with each season choosing a set of films which complement and build on one another – for example, ‘Mission to Mars’ covers sci-fi from Men in Black to Wall-E to Armageddon. This focus on the programming allows them to create a setting which only serves to heighten the experience, but without distracting from the focus on the film.

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With thanks to Hannah Marcus for her unique, cultural insights.