Outdoor cinema. Is there a better more bonkers way to spend an afternoon at Kirkstall Abbey?


Have you ever been to an outdoor cinema? Up until yesterday I’d never been, so the family friendly Alice in Wonderland event at Kirkstall Abbey was new for both me and my eight year old boy.

Run by Sneaky Experience, I wasn’t sure what to expect. There were two versions of the film running – the Disney animated movie in the morning and afternoon and the more recent Tim Burton version starring Jonny Depp (for over 18s only) in the evening. We were at the family friendly event, although I think my son must have a darker side as he actually prefers the Depp one.

alice in Wonderland kirkstall abbey
Big Screen showings at Kirkstall Abbey. Photo: West Leeds Dispatch

We were greeted at the gate by a couple of ‘Alices’, actresses in character speaking in a plum English accent (just like the original Disney film!). From there we met the White Rabbit, March Hare, Cheshire Cat (man stuck up tree, singing – literally), Tweedle Dum and Tweedle … You get the picture.

Each character we met as we wondered around the ruins of the Abbey had a story to tell. I’m always full of admiration for the actors who do this sort of thing, it can’t be easy getting into character and interacting with kids for hours on end. The costumes and make-up were spot on and the kids simply loved it. It made for a an immersive experience and it was fun, everyone lapped it up.

Just like the film, you could indulge in a game of croquet with a very bossy Queen, there was a Punch and Judy style puppet show and a giant singalong and dance to celebrate our ‘un-birthdays’ led by an enthusiastic Mad Hatter – you were made to feel like you were entering Wonderland and it was all as bonkers as it sounds. I’ve never seen so many excited children!

The movie itself in the bowels of the Abbey was good fun. The wrong film initially came on (they started to showe the Depp version) but the moment was saved by some great improvisation by the Alice actress and within a couple of minutes the Disney version came on.

I love movies but never watched one outside. It adds to what is a very unique atmosphere and I’d certainly go see another (despite noisy kids). Perhaps something which really compliments the setting like a horror film at dusk, or Harry Potter would make for an even better experience. Even if you’ve seen the film before it’s worth coming to events like this for a really immersive, well executed and fun experience – and it’s always good to see the Abbey being used for events like this. Recommended.


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