Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Tell No One

"Take the medication," was the chilling instruction I was given by a man in a white coat standing outside Ladbroke Grove underground station. "Follow those people."

Following me were a horsey super Sloane ("daddy's a partner at Child and Child, I want to be  a solicitor. Or something that makes a lot of money") and her chaperone a trainee solicitor. The number of ugly terry cloth bathrobes people inhabit in the privacy of their own homes  is astounding.  Mine is an Abraham and Thakore cotton  number, more suited to Indian ocean spa, than the stark, tree lines streets of semi-salubrious west London.  SPA coming from the Roman Sanitas Per Aqua, or health through water.

Hoardes of people combing the streets of Ladbroke Grove on a freezing Sunday evening, in their bathrobes followed orders given by "doctors and nurses" on street corners. The haughty moon  staring down chilled and glazed appeared to be in on it. Something deliciously clandestine was afoot.

A disused mental facility off St Quintin  Avenue was the final destination for November's Secret Cinema.  This had been carefully managed so no one knew where they were going, all contact so far had been through cryptic e mails and pre-recorded phone messages.  I had to change my Facebook profile picture to my favorite yoga pose. The Buddha. I had to fill in forms and send them back and in my Gucci handbag, as instructed, I had a First Class stamp and a photo of someone precious to me.

Oregon State Mental Institution read the sign.  A line of greeters in white coats and fairly convincing mid-American accents greeted me, slapped a yellow plastic wrist band on me ( I was now sponsored by Windows Phone, the headline partner of the event) and showed me into the ghostly ghastly building which was to be my "home " for the next few hours.

Inside, the abandoned facility had been transformed to its former glory. Deranged "inmates" slipped by in the hallways doing the Thorazine Shuffle, one or two broke out in uncontrollable monologues, only to be swiftly recaptured and restrained by ever-present, all-seeing attendants.

The 4D film  experience this was all a part of was One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest , Milos Foreman's masterpiece staring Jack Nicholson and Danny de Vito. I was ushered off to buy my prescriptions,  which were then filled in small rooms off endless corridors and elected uppers, the experience of wandering round in the freezing cold, in my bathrobe, albeit a very nice one,  was sombering.

Fortified with a double dose of uppers times 2, I was ushered to meet the Director, who asked me if I knew what year I was in. JFK was about to be assassinated. Or had he already been killed? 1963? He told me I was well enough to reside at the facility.

"Do everything they tell you," He whispered ominously.

The tannoy in the hallway screeched,
"Art therapy will be held in Ward 9 in four minutes." So I made my way to ward 9.
"Art therapy will be held in Ward 8 in three minutes."
I was going crazy. Oh yes, of course, that is why I was there.

art therapy
Then there was Yoga therapy, for those who wanted to attend.

The entire space had been given over to this fantasy, small cell-like rooms had been converted into what looked like prison dormitories. 

I'm sure I saw a bed with Nick Cohen, raging anti-Islamic commentator's name on it. We become that which we most hate, something to think about within the cold cruel walls of this sanatorium.  The hospital staff broke into a scratchy version of Simon and Garfunkle's The Sounds of Silence  and encouraged rudimentary instrument-playing. An interesting immersive experiment was going downstairs into the unlit basement and watching the convincing and charismatic John Harrigan, director of Foolish People who had contributed to produce this event with The New Wellbeing Foundation. I'm still not sure what they are about, something to do with "solving the problems of control" but clearly there is a large section of youngish people willing to part with their hard-earned to be part of something quirky.  John was brilliant as the Nicholson character, daring people to go to the edge and to escape to Ward 12 which didn't exist.

There were other interactive participatory events, the little screening /torture room, the no-exit through the tunnel, the lecture to ascertain if I was well enough to be part of the chosen few who went in for "special treatment" in Ward 12. A lot of thought had gone into dressing the place for the happening, specimen jars of what looked like body parts and pills adorned shelves and surfaces, everywhere I turned, someone was asking me how I felt and if I knew where I was and why I was there. Every time I turned around, a really tall black guy was sweeping the floor, he saw me, stopped to stroke my hair four times and then resumed sweeping the floor. 

Perhaps there is something peculiar to the English psyche that needs to be controlled and contained  but after a while it started to feel creepy. I thought about leaving but there was a nerdy goon at the door who told me I was expected to stay  and "participate." Just in time, "Film Therapy" was announced.  There were three screening rooms, depending on the colour of the wristband dispensed upon entry and for a moment I worried about the Elf and Safety fairy, should this get out of control. There were a lot of people there.

People delved into the spirit of the evening, strangers laughed together, copious amounts of alcohol were imbibed, and a kind of insane hedonistic Nirvana was attained. It was like being at a grown-up kid's birthday party with permission to eat too many cupcakes and quaaludes,  sing too loud and have too much fun. Strange that it took being locked in a mental institution to "have fun."

Well not really Nirvana but it was fun and a good way to spend £30 on a Sunday evening. Drinks and food are extra. Book here . Take a sweater. And remember

Tell no one. 


  1. Sounds great fun,love the mystery element.

    One question: does "4D experience" mean someone was crouching under the seat in front of you offering a full feelaround experience?