With its enchanted forest, live entertainment and Christmas themed refreshments, the MAGICAL CHRISTMAS MOVIE EXPERIENCE is sure to get you in the festive mood
Pop-up cinemas seem to be the “in thing” at the moment but rarely are they done well. Despite the best intentions of the organisers, many guests are often left disappointed by cold venues, poor refreshments and expensive ticket prices. Thankfully, the MAGICAL CHRISTMAS MOVIE EXPERIENCE, in association with Macdonald Manchester Hotel, has managed to get it right.
Opening this weekend at the recently transformed Mayfield Depot near Manchester Piccadilly, the MAGICAL CHRISTMAS MOVIE EXPERIENCE is a brand new pop-up cinema experience with lashings of festive cheer. Showing classic Christmas films, the festive movie experience transports guests to an enchanted forest with a live choir at every film screening, Christmas themed refreshments and appearances by Father Christmas.
I must admit that I was a little sceptical about the whole experience when making my way to the venue. While Mayfield Depot is certainly an iconic building, it still looks a little run down on the outside and if you’re not from the area, you could easily think you’ve got the wrong place. Those who are from the area will also know that this particular area of Piccadilly can be a little dodgy at times so I was naturally anxious about walking back to the car park after the screening when it was dark and quiet. Thankfully, the event organisers had thought ahead and installed plenty of lighting on the approach to the venue and once I was inside, my opinion quickly changed.
The immersive movie experience pretty much starts on arrival with Santa’s festive elves welcoming guests as they step through a Narnia-inspired wardrobe of fur coats into a magical enchanted Christmas forest. The walkway to the main area is well done here, with a forest of snow dusted pine trees and Victorian lamp posts leading to a 14ft Christmas tree which forms the forest centrepiece. It is also here where the man of the moment – Father Christmas – makes an appearance, welcoming guests as they enter the main area and posing for photos with both children and adults.
After grabbing a Christmas cocktail from the bar (Winter’s Kiss is particularly delicious), I made my way to one of the side rooms which was offering free workshops and mince pies. Situated across six large wooden tables is a range of arts and crafts materials, giving kids and adults the chance to get creative. Plenty of people were taking part, making everything from Christmas decorations with paper and wood, to magical mugs on the pottery wheel and it was nice to see that all the equipment and materials were free. After a quick nosy around, I grabbed myself a free mince pie and headed off to the large food hall where festive refreshments, including food and drink, is available to purchase.
Just like the Kitchen back at home, the food hall is the place where everyone gathers together as a live choir (who are excellent) entertain the masses with carols and festive songs. While there aren’t masses of food choice here, what is done is done well and all of the dishes are well presented, which is pretty impressive considering its street food. Those looking for a savoury option can choose from dim sum, burgers and dirty chips, while sweet choices include popcorn, candy floss and doughnuts. Prices range from £2 (for Popcorn) to £19 (for ½ a Lobster and Chips) with most dishes averaging around £7. I personally opted for a handmade burger with mixed chips from Go Get Stuffed which was delicious and generous in portion.
There are also plenty of well-stocked bars serving a range of cocktails, wines and festive favourites including hot chocolate, Christmas cocktails and mulled wine. The bar staff are clearly pros, making each cocktail from scratch (priced at £6 each) and offering their personal recommendations. Even the hot drinks (I had a rather delicious hot chocolate for £3) are well presented with whipped cream and marshmallows to boot. Organisers tell me that the venue will remain open for 30 minutes after the last film screening but I’d advise you to arrive early to fully take advantage of the street food and bar as the film starts approximately one hour after the doors to the venue have opened.
Of course, the main highlight of the night is the festive film itself which, on this evening, was THE GREATEST SHOWMAN. Upon entering the “pop-up cinema”, I was pleasantly surprised to see plenty of seating available (so you don’t feel crammed in) with big wooden tables and foldable chairs occupying the back of the room and giant bean bags towards the front. Thanks to the huge 33-foot wide screen and digital projector, you can pretty much see from wherever you sit. What’s more, this area is nice and warm (hurrah) as I was little worried about sitting in a cold warehouse in the middle of November for almost two hours. Thankfully, heaters dotted around the venue help to make the area feel nice and cosy and blankets are provided which will later be donated to the city’s homeless community after the final screening.
As with all of these types of events, a couple of tweaks here and there would help to make the overall experience a little more magical. Firstly, the organisers promised live performances from stilt walkers, jugglers and fire artists but I didn’t see any of this around the venue. Perhaps they were in a separate part that I didn’t visit but as I followed the crowds, this would have likely been the case for many other guests.
It also wasn’t really clear when the film was due to start (a few signs around the venue would resolve this issue) so a lot of guests missed the start of the film because they were stuck in queues at the bar/food hall, or just chatting amongst themselves. This is a relaxed performance so during the film guests are able to get up and move around. Whilst I’m all for this, it does mean, however, that if you’re sat towards the back of the venue, you may find it difficult to hear the film over people chatting and the hustle and bustle of food/bar area.
That said, these are minor criticisms and for the ticket price (prices start from £14.99), this event is well worth the money. Films will be screened every Friday, Saturday and Sunday with matinee screenings of children’s favourites at weekends. Other showings include smash hit festive favourites LOVE ACTUALLY, THE HOLIDAY, ELF, GREMLINS, THE POLAR EXPRESS, HOME ALONE, HOME ALONE 2, DIE HARD, and SANTA CLAUS THE MOVIE, as well as sing-along showings for those who really want to get into the festive mood. You can find the full listings here.
A MAGICAL CHRISTMAS MOVIE EXPERIENCE runs at Mayfield Depot from 23 November until 16 December 2018
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.