Little bit of background on this one – obviously being big movie fans, we were aware of Darren Lynn Bousman’s work. Fun piece of trivia – I won a prize at Frightfest’s quiz a few years ago for being the only person of the 600+ audience who wrote down the correct answer for what the title of SAW II’s script originally was (it was an existing script that was repurposed into a SAW sequel when the production necessitated a swift turnaround). And no more SAW mentions as the director’s done a whole heap of other stuff (my favourite might have to be the Mother’s Day remake).
So that was how we originally learned of The Tension Experience a couple of years back. We were paying keen attention (though not participating given that we’re in the UK) to what was developing and it all sounded pretty amazing. They also released a book (that we obviously bought!) at the end of Tension’s run that’s an absolutely fascinating read as well as being a beautiful tome!
Flash forward to September 2018 and we’re organising the last few things in our L.A. itinerary with Theatre Macabre dangling out there. Though I’d been aware of the show since it’d been announced, we didn’t book it until later on as I wanted to get a feel for what sort of production it was. After reading and listening to a few things, it became clear that this was a must-do and so we dropped the $150 each on it!
And we’re so glad that we did! The guys behind the show are steadfast about retaining the mystery. Hell, we weren’t even told where the event was taking place until ten hours before! So, I’m going to tread very carefully here!
The premise is essentially that you are showing up to an evening at the Theatre Macabre, a show that dabbles in ‘alternative’ entertainment. As you are ushered into the theatre you encounter all manner of characters who bend and shape your night and you’ll soon discover that there’s more going on than just the show!
First off – the scale of Theatre Macabre was mind-blowing! We thought Whitechapel was expansive! The event takes place in an actual entertainment venue and feels as bustling as any typical cabaret night might. People are walking around, minding their own business. Others are having a less than great time. This place was alive. In the few moments where I didn’t have anything to do, I got extremely fidgety, looking around for an opening. It says a lot that although I probably had maybe five minutes max to myself to enjoy the titular performance, those five minutes felt like time burning away! You can’t help but want to explore this world. You’re relatively free to go where you want which can be overwhelming to begin with! You’ll be surprised at how quickly you adjust though as there’s always something going on.
To give you an idea as to how wide this thing appears to be, after talking through our experiences post-show, it transpired that, whilst we were obviously in the same event, we’d basically partaken in two completely distinct genres. Again, I won’t say what but this wasn’t a case of us speaking to different characters and performing a variation of the same activity. Our journeys through the Theatre were worlds apart. Wish I could say more but you wouldn’t want to know anyway – the discovery is what makes this show special. Which I guess is the other thing to say; go with people or go alone, it won’t make any difference to your evening as you’ll most likely be pulled away for the majority of your time there. We only came together for about five minutes the whole night!
We can’t go any further without mentioning the cast. Man, everyone was so on point – as I mentioned previously in my Interieur review, I’m not a quick-witted speaker in the slightest so the prospect of a night centered around character interaction genuinely struck fear into my heart! But the actors made it so easy, they reacted naturally to things I said (and asked) and always kept things moving. And then there were the little touches. Each time slot only accepted around ten people meaning that you were very visible to all the characters in the show! What impressed the living hell out of me though was not only did they remember our names throughout the night but they even knew that we came together, I was shocked when one character mentioned both of our names to me. Tiny detail in the scheme of things but it really stunned me!
I have nothing but admiration for performers in these types of events. They have a script to follow but also have to be open to improv because the outside guest element is one that can be prepared for but never truly predicted. Being able to toe that balance of keeping to the script but allowing for some bend is a real skill.
And then the creators – it’s absolutely mind boggling how this show was put together, creatively and technically. Every guest appeared to have their own story and how they timed this and linked everything up must have resulted in major headaches! But it was completely and utterly flawless. At no point did I witness the show ‘break’ which is extremely impressive given the number of moving parts involved.
Aside from that, the concept of a suspect theatre putting on performances for ‘deviant’ minds was a great premise and the heavy hints that I received as to what was happening behind the scenes gave the show a lot more texture. And the great thing about it? Even though I think I have some idea as to what was happening, I could still be completely in the dark as there was so much else going on.
Which is probably the downside to Theatre Macabre if there is one – I’d be surprised if you left after one attendance having a full picture of what was going on. If we did return, I know now how I’d attack certain parts to get a better understanding of the theatre’s workings. This is definitely a show that would reward a second visit. But this is exactly the same comment that we had after Whitechapel; to a degree it’s just a facet of the show boasting many routes. And to be very clear, there was a solid conclusion to the evening. It was more the fact that I left yearning to discover more rather than the show having a massive void where the ending should be. So yeah, there’s absolutely a full story in here, you will just likely leave without knowing all the ‘colour’.
All in all, we had an amazing time at Theatre Macabre. Yes, it’s heavy on audience participation but in a really natural, non-intrusive way. We were simply floored by the sheer scale of what was unfolding before us. We’ve never seen anything like it and, if you’re able to, seize the opportunity whilst you can! Just go and give yourself over to the Theatre, you won’t regret it!
The Theatre Macabre
+ Open world
With only a few events to go on our trip, I think it’s safe to say that Theatre Macabre has been the highlight. It’s honestly like nothing we’ve experienced before and we’d implore you to attend if you have even a passing interest in immersive theatre.
Price Paid: $158.00