Cars and cinema have had a long and mutually adoring relationship since the Aston Martin first appeared in a Bond movie. Ads are newsworthy cinematic events and been the creative kindergarten for a number of award-winning directors, including the likes of Ridley Scott.
It was, therefore, an unforgettable experience to watch the worlds of film, fashion, celebrity and theatre collides for the launch of the new 2016 Lexus RX at London’s Tom Dixon-designed Mondrian hotel.
As part of a pack of unwitting journalists, we were catapulted into a live theatrical manifestation of ‘The Life RX’ – a multi-sensorial world of luxury, excitement and unexpected thrills, as depicted in the latest TV advert for the car, which also stars the very dapper Jude Law.
Mr. Law himself, in person, starred alongside an elite cast of actors from the world of immersive theatre to take us through a 14-scene odyssey designed to celebrate the credentials of the new Lexus RX. Each room was a new scenario that required us to improvise in our new persona as an international movie star (I imagined myself as Damien Lewis for the night), whilst the rest of the cast interacted and responded to our specific personalities. It was the ultimate bespoke performance with one wow moment after another.
The event was produced and directed by an A-list team of some of the best theatrical talent London, including Simon Evans, director and creator of numerous Secret Cinema events including The Shawshank Redemption, Joanna Scotcher who received WhatsonStage ‘Best Set Designer’ Award for her set design of The Railway Children; London-based fashion designer Joshua Kane who was previously the head designer at Paul Smith and lighting design from Tupac Matir – whose best-known works have been with Beyonce and Alexander McQueen.
At the event’s after party, I sat down with Simon Evans to ask him how this groundbreaking idea became a reality.
As the pioneer of immersive theatre, what attracted you to bringing this concept to a car launch?
What you do with immersive theatre is you create a theatrical world into which an audience can enter and completely inhabit.
When Lexus came to me about the Life RX TV spot and that they were going to create a world of the A List celebrity, my mind was immediately full of the different environments you could put an audience into that they understand implicitly but have always been outside of. Think red carpets and paparazzi experiences, press conferences and screening rooms…
At any opportunity you have to show people that world. You have to think, what is this world going to be like? A – you have to create a world that they can inhabit with fun characters, one that the audience can explore with enjoyment. And B – how you want the audience to enter that world? And again, when we saw that TV spot, it was all about someone immediately becoming that celebrity. Then we got to think about the idea of the car reveal, that we had at the beginning, and turning that whole car into a film set. As soon as we hit on that idea, I thought this is going to be the most exciting thing in the world to do to these unsuspecting journalists. Once you put those two things together, it was irresistible.
How did the event bring the car’s brand values to life and what were the highlights for you?
The Lexus value is that this car, the RX, is going to give you a passport to a life of luxury. We deliberately started the event with a slightly dry piece of heavy exposition. The journalists were led through three rooms to deliberately saturate them with information and make them feel like this is going to be another slightly dull car launch. But then we put them in this car, changed everything around them and suddenly they’re the lead character in the story of their life and a world that seems so glamorous and so exciting, which has always seemed just out of reach.
In terms of my highlight, it’s got to be the red carpet sequence, where they drive from an underground car park to a red carpet, where one of my actors says to them: “Are you ready? Here we go – you’re a star now!” They step out, and up until that point there’s been about twenty people around them so they don’t have a chance to interact, and then suddenly they are surrounded by 50 / 60 people taking photos and asking for autographs. That was the moment when we saw people’s faces and thought: “This is where we’ve done it, this is where we’ve really landed that point.”
As brands continue to experiment with experiential marketing for launches, what would be the ultimate piece of immersive theatre for you?
Ha-ha you’re asking me to give away my big idea – the one I’ve been sitting on for months [laughs]. The idea always is to make an audience feel like they’re not being told information. As soon as they are told something, there’s a fence which goes up, so the ultimate piece of immersive puts an audience in the state where they are open to receiving information but the modes by which you give the information are somehow tied up with the experience that they’re having. They’re not told things, they discover things for themselves.
There’s an amazing Greek word – anagnorosis – which is translated as discovery or recognition. It’s used in terms of Greek theatre, when characters (and you must consider the audience in immersive theatre as characters) make a critical discovery for themselves. This is always a gamble as brands want their message to be crystal clear, and as soon as you place it in the audience’s hands to discover for themselves, you risk that they won’t.
The best piece, and in fact the piece that I’m working on a model for at the moment will allow that to be something that they discover for themselves and therefore feel ownership of. That’s something I believe we did incredibly well with ‘The Life RX’.
What’s next for Secret Cinema?
There’s plans for them to go over to America and they’ve talked to me about taking an existing show of mine over there, but I’ve got a company called Myriad & Co, and we’re planning a new immersive show based on artificial intelligence over the summer.