Now that it has closed, I can safely say that Las Maravillas was one of the most horrifying theatrical experiences I have had in years. Not frightening: tops for that is still Stewart Pringle’s “As Ye Sow”, but horrifying as in horrible, a la Fram or the monstrous 4:48 Psychosis Fourth Monkey put on some years back.
The concept was good: a Mexican look at horror, combining the Aztec mythos and Day of the Dead imagery. But there were troubles at the start: the entry times were quite vague, so people were being dumped in a queue and told they might have to wait over an hour to get in. With a premium ticket, you could skip this, but I sensed some very unhappy customers at the ticket desk.
My group was met at the entrance to the former archives at the Rosemary Branch building (in the basement) by an animal headed person who was, I think, meant to represent an Aztec god, possibly of the underworld. However, the effect of his pronouncements about the journey we were about to undertake was ruined by the people I was with – a group of giggling girlies who were there for someone’s birthday party. MISERY. I spent the entire evening hoping one of the “monsters” would drag them off, but no such luck.
What followed was a series of what I would call animated tableaux – set pieces with actors in them, sometimes telling us stories, sometimes putting on a performance for us to watch. Although clearly done on a limited budget, the various rooms were actually quite atmospheric – from the first one with its strobe lights and hanging dolls to my favorite, the spider queen’s room, with little web-wrapped morsels dangling from the ceiling.
However, the actual level of the performances was, in my eyes, at a drama school level or below. Both the blind story teller and the “forest killers” were overacting hams who utterly failed to convince me of what they were doing; to either frighten me or pull me in. It was the second or third night, so I think any jitters would have been overcome; and each piece was being done about eight times a night so there was certainly plenty of chance for getting it right. But nothing gelled. I was touched physically, I was whispered to, but all I was doing was walking around under a basement with a bunch of people in fancy dress. It just didn’t work. I felt it didn’t really take advantage of any of the deeper options of Mexican culture it could have hit; and, ultimately, I wound up disappointed, apologizing to the person who came with me for dragging them along. Ah well, at least it was short.
(This review is for a performance that took place on October 28, 20014. It is now closed.)