The drinks are chilled, the war is cold, and the entertainment is hot, hot, hot at Crimson Cabaret, the wildest club in all of West Berlin. The cabaret is a beloved establishment attracting guests from royalty to famous playwrights and, naturally, spies. That is where you come in as The Unmarked Door invites you to dig out the trench coat and fedora from the depths of your blunder years to take part in an international game of entangled allegiances and bitter love triangles. The tea here is served hot and possibly poisoned.
Before heading out to the artistic epicenter of West Berlin known as Glendale, you’ll want to check your encrypted channel for an email from the Head of Operations which does a great job at building up the backstory and prepping guests for their roles by providing a dossier, various transcripts, and a printable ID card with instructions for choosing a name, nationality, and occupation. As you go through orientation you’re given a free drink pass, a sheet of paper and a pencil to take notes, and an ID card if you’ve forgotten to print one out yourself. Heading into the main ballroom, there’s a fairly large stage painted with bold reds and yellows, an aesthetic carried throughout the club sure to keep you awake and aware through your 4th martini. The illusion is to a degree broken by some modern industrial lighting and ventilation but as with all compelling pieces of theatre, the world manages to draw you in if you allow it. Outside of this main area, there are hidden rooms you will be taken to depending on your faction that have been thoughtfully-crafted with period art and props from the region, though certain elements like the printed paper placards over the doors could be improved to increase authenticity.
The show starts in earnest at 8:30 and guests can start to show up as early as 7:30 to begin to mingle and complete their first mission by finding one of several assigned contacts. I would recommend arriving as early as possible as the stage show continues uninterrupted, well, mostly uninterrupted, until the end of the night and this leads to having to choose between watching the show and chatting with the actors to uncover the shady negotiations taking place beneath the club’s glitzy exterior. The Crimson Cabaret features a large cast of about a dozen main players, including immersive theatre veteran Dasha Kittredge playing a completely unassuming American tourist on her own in West Berlin at the height of the Cold War. I’d also like to recognize Justin Fix of JFI Productions for his role as Mr. Doug, a wealthy landowner and courter of the Countess Varinka. I’d like to recognize him but I can’t because Justin Fix is not a part of this production. I thought he was throughout the night up until I was given the cast sheet for this review and noted his mysterious absence. That’s one of the magical things about this show and I’m not sure whether it’s because we were given enough context to prep for the improv this requires or because it was an early press night attended by actors and hardcore immersive fans but everyone seemed like they were getting into the spirit of their characters and it made it difficult at times to figure out who I needed to talk to and who was just doing their best to play along. This could easily be remedied by giving the cast some visible marker but while it may lead to heading towards some dead ends in terms of objective progress, it made for an exciting night of emergent improvised theatre that I haven’t quite seen before. This is further enhanced by the fact that the cast doesn’t really seek you out and will occasionally just talk amongst themselves. Again, not great for maximizing their ability to keep the narrative rolling but fantastic for creating the sense that there isn’t a separation between them and the guests.
At least half the cast performs both as a part of the larger narrative and in the onstage variety show, which largely works to the show’s benefit, allowing the cast size to be kept in check while providing a constant barrage of vaudevillian energy from song and dance to burlesque and acrobatics. This doesn’t come without a cost, however, as while my contact did a fine job in both her role as an acrobat and as a player in the larger narrative, it did feel as though her dual roles made her less available for guidance. The Crimson Cabaret can be enjoyed purely as a stage show by simply enjoying the performances and allowing events to play out around you. That’s how I would recommend it be enjoyed as I found the conversation with the actors to be engaging but ultimately fruitless in accomplishing any sort of larger goal. I didn’t really come out feeling as though I knew any more about the various interests than I did after receiving a load of exposition from my quest giver at the beginning of the night. Ultimately, everyone is funneled towards the same conclusion regardless of any individual player’s ability to gather intel so I would recommend these elements be seen more as world-building. They should be appreciated for how they establish a sense of place and time rather than as a pressing goal that needs to be accomplished to fully appreciate the experience. There are a few snags here and there and the breadth of your experience is somewhat dependent on luck and which path you’re sent down but the show is packed densely enough with different avenues of entertainment to still keep things moving even if your individual path doesn’t play out perfectly. I didn’t do much of anything or further anyone’s ambitions but it was still a ton of fun to watch those worlds collide as relations begin to devolve throughout the night.
This brings us to the issue of price and Crimson Cabaret is on the high end with general admission costing $95 and $145 for VIP. VIP tickets get you another drink in addition to the one provided with the regular ticket, an extra scene, another clue to unlock, and more attention from the actors. I would not recommend the VIP ticket. I’m not sure what the extra scene or clue entails so it may be amazing and totally worth the price but a drink isn’t worth $50 and as for the attention, just approach the actors, they won’t ignore you or turn you away because you’re not VIP. The standard ticket price isn’t unreasonable given the shows large cast, over 2-hour running time, and a live band performing original music composed by accomplished film composer Rolfe Kent but I would still feel more comfortable recommending this around the $75-$80 range. For comparison, that was the cost of Haus of Creep and while beggars can’t be choosers given the dearth of immersive theatre outside of the Halloween season, this show doesn’t have that level of scope, narrative complexity, or set design. I would recommend Crimson Cabaret for those that enjoy vintage vaudeville and don’t need a great deal of agency in how their experience plays out. I had a great time at the cabaret and it’s a wonderful way to be transported to another time in place in the post-Halloween lull but the asking price in this already most expensive of months will limit its appeal to a more dedicated immersive enthusiast crowd.