Produced by Boston BeauTease
Review by Danielle Rosvally
(Cambridge, MA) Immersive, site-specific theatre is notoriously difficult to execute. It is complicated to envision, a nightmare to rehearse, precarious to time, and overwhelming to build. Audiences familiar with Punchdrunk’s Sleep no More will understand just how many details go into the completion of a successful immersive theatre project. The Wrathskellar Tales is surprisingly thorough and impressively complete in its scope.
Imagine being dumped into a back alley in some Steampunk fantasy of Victorian London. All around you are different areas you can freely walk into; settings, lairs, rooms, hallways, each inhabited by nearly-speechless denizens who each have their own complex relationship with the world and each other. That’s basically what you’ll see when you walk into a production of The Wrathskellar Tales. There are performed vignettes that each take place in one of the various locations throughout the course of the night. Some of these vignettes tell clear stories, others are immaterial snatches of a world that audiences only glimpse.
Of course, this is a burlesque show. The vignettes all basically have the same ultimate conclusion. For that, this is the best burlesque I have seen in Boston. The performers are engaged, clearly having fun, professional, and entertaining. They bring various experiences with the physical arts to their performances including ballet and belly dance. Not only can the cast perform a hot burlesque act, but their acting chops are on full display in The Wrathskellar Tales, an aspect of the art of burlesque that I often find lacking. These girls did not disappoint.
The space has been expertly transformed into its various settings and it was easy to accept the immersion of the piece. I was extremely impressed with the set dressing and construction, as well as the wide variety of props on display. Speaking of, make sure to riffle through the various things you’ll find in these locations when you go; there are definitely a few secrets that the characters wish you wouldn’t find out (but make the evening that much more enjoyable).
The piece is performed on a one-hour loop cycle. If you arrive with the 7:30 timeslot, you’ll have two and a half chances to see the entire loop. The cast is small, so you won’t miss much your first run-through if you follow the music. There are definitely things happening simultaneous to the main featured action, but I found that after two rotations I had mostly seen it all. There is a finale act at 9:55, but to be honest it’s nothing you haven’t already seen over the course of the evening. I would say book an early ticket slot (your choices will be 7:30, 8:00, and 8:30), watch the loop through, then split when you feel you’ve explored what there is to explore.
My one complaint is a general lack of cohesive storyline. There are obviously some very deep, very well-thought-out relationships between these characters, but those relationships (for the most part) are almost impenetrable to an audience. Meaningful looks between cast members are exchanged on multiple occasions, but without context it’s difficult for us to suss out precisely what they mean.
Some relationships are clear, like the maid and the diva; while others are a mystery. Who is that random guy walking around checking everything other than “Mr. Bücher, Proprietor”? What is with the waifish girl who seems to live in an abandoned train station? Why is there an Indian/gypsy belly dancer in this seemingly Euro-centric world? I’m not saying that every question had to be answered, but some sense of a story or context would have been nice. The group did so much work to present something immersive (and it truly was immersive), going the final 10% of the way would have helped to hang on to their audience.
I entered the experience with the 7:30 group and stayed until the finale; I was one of about 15 who stayed that long and one of about 4 who made it the entire night. That turnover could be solved with a touch more transparency with the story-telling aspects of the evening. These aspects are clearly already present for the performers, now they need to be made more clear to the audience.
I would absolutely recommend a trip to The Wrathskellar Tales, but don’t feel obligated to stay the entire time (especially if you’re going on a Sunday and have to wake up early to get to work the next day).