Lawrence of Alexandra Palace

Last week, Design Week spoke to Secret Cinema art director Toby Stevens about the complicated process behind the cinematic event, which involves translating a chosen film into a venue big enough to fit several thousand.

This weekend, the biggest audience yet was treated to a colonial army barracks, officers’ bar and an exotic, fully-functioning souk for a screening of – you guessed it – British epic Lawrence of Arabia.

Visitors clad in Bedouin attire get off the overground
Visitors clad in Bedouin attire get off the overground

Walking the road to Damascus were over 15,000 people, clad in Bedouin attire and some with horses and camels. After arriving at the venue, North London’s Alexandra Palace, spectators were led through British military camps, complete with busy typists and brandy-swigging officers.

The road road to Damascus
The road road to Damascus

Alexandra Palace’s large palms were a great backdrop to the officer’s bar, into which an actor dressed as Lawrence burst in at one point pre-film to demand two glasses of lemonade –  a nod to a scene from the movie to come.

Descending into the Souk, you were greeted with the sound and smells of Arabia. Stevens’ team had created a dramatic market place, complete with terracotta maze, haggling shopkeepers and palm readers. I even got swapped for several rounds of ammunition – a fair price I thought.

A member of the Arab Council and his ride
A member of the Arab Council and his ride

Passing the artificial desert oasis, visitors could then watch the epic film, popping out to frequent the luxuriously dressed Hookah lounges or pad about the sands.

The screening room
The screening room

The grand scale sutied the epic nature of the film and led to great sense of community – cheering errupted at points when Lawrence did well and when the film’s sweeping score sounded. It was an impressive feat pulled together by Stevens’ team and, despite a few traditionally English queues, it was total transportation to another world.

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