When it comes to my relationship, I'm not usually the one for big romantic gestures - that accolade goes to Jon, he of the surprise-visit-to-my-home fame, along with romantic-treasure-hunt-proposal and secret-trip-to-see-Wicked. We have both long accepted that he will always trump me when it comes to effort, thought and surprise, so when his birthday rolls around I usually stick to a tried and tested formula of his favourite chocolate and a bevvy of games or movies.
Not this year.
Jon is a bit of a Star Wars fan - our spare room is filled with replica light sabers, Han Solo bookends, a Stormtrooper helmet - he even used to work on the Star Tours ride at Walt Disney World. It has already been established that we will be attending a midnight viewing of Episode 7 when it eventually gets released. Essentially Jon likes Star Wars approximately as much as I like Harry Potter (a lot). So when Secret Cinema announced their showing of The Empire Strikes Back, I cut back on my regular ASOS orders, stopped buying lipstick, and made damn sure I saved up the £160-odd sum required to attend.
Crucially, I did not inform Jon of this. Or rather, I kind of did, but gave him the impression tickets were way over budget and not achievable in the lead up to our wedding, when the money could just as easily be spent on lawn games or favours. This, coupled with vague hints about a birthday surprise at his football club, meant we travelled into London one Sunday afternoon without him so much as suspecting our actual destination. My plan almost crumbled when a host of costumed fellow attendees got on the Jubilee line with us, but thanks to the Hyper Japan expo taking place that same weekend, Jon happily assumed the costumes were for another reason entirely.
His reaction when we alighted at Canada Water and I started pulling costumes out of my bag was utterly priceless - I even filmed it! We pulled on our respective garments, and armed with props, followed the crowd to the secret location.
For those unfamiliar with the concept of Secret Cinema, the premise is as follows: once you've bought your ticket, you will receive regular updates from Rebel X in the run up to your viewing. You're encouraged to log on and receive your "character" - happily both Jon and I were part of the Creative Council, so we were basically Jedi! - and then you're given tips on putting together a costume and what props you'll need to enhance your experience. You can of course go as your normal self, but where's the fun in that? Every faction has a designated scarf colour, and even if you wear nothing else in terms of costume I would encourage you to go with the scarf, as it's an essential part of the whole build up! On the night we attended, I would say 99% of people dressed up - some people made so much effort, it was amazing! Unfortunately, photographs inside the venue are not allowed, nor is revealing the location - it is secret after all! We were made to put our phones in sealed bags upon arrival - they're not taken away from you, but the no-photo-rule is enforced throughout the location. I took these snaps before we went in!
Money-wise, it is a lot when compared to your average garden cinema experience, but the thing to remember here is that it's much more than a film showing. The aim is to immerse yourself completely in the world and atmosphere pertaining to the film you're going to see - so if you imagine a few key Star Wars locations transposed into east London, you're pretty much there! You're guided by actors who help create the feeling of having been plucked out of London and thrown into a galaxy far far away - you're also encouraged to act out your part when interacting with other people, actors or viewers. There is also plenty of food and drink on offer - we had the most amazing pork dumplings and fried halloumi, yum! Do bring a credit or debit card though as the event is cash-free... Our event began at around half five and we were on the tube home by about half past ten, so you do get about five hours' worth of entertainment for your money.
Was it worth it? I'm not a massive Star Wars fan - I watched the films of course but it's never grabbed me the way Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings did - and even I would say 100% yes. I really, really enjoyed myself and Jon, well, Jon was in his element. His only regret was not knowing about it prior to the day as he would have gone all out with his costume! (He reviewed the night on his own blog here if you fancy a peek.) If I could compare Secret Cinema to anything I'd say it's akin to going to Disney - you feel a bit like you're in a bubble, everyone is enjoying themselves too much to feel self-conscious and it's so easy to get swept up in the fun!
Tickets are still available all the way up to the 27th September - if you're a fan (even if you're not!) I would definitely recommend it for a fun night out!