***** STARS

By Jessica Taurins

Queens of the Damned – the brainchild of fantastically named duo Madam Dreadful and Holly Wouldn’t – is a pop-up dinner theatre experience currently residing in the Melbourne Mission to Seafarers buildings. The experience is brought to life every Saturday night and packs up that same night, making it a truly unique pop-up event that must be seen to be believed!

For this particular run, the Queens are putting on a sea-themed spectacular: The Pirate Experience. We are welcomed at the door by a group performing a Capella sea shanties, and the theming of the evening only continues from there. The cocktails have silicone tentacles and mermaid tails, the staff and performers are all in costume (captains! first mates! fire breathers!) and the intimate outdoor bar area is a wonderful place to start the night. The cocktails are varied and delicious, and of course there is a virgin option available for any designated drivers. The Pirate Experience is a fully 18+ event with moments of cabaret-level nudity and plenty of adult jokes, so audience members are highly encouraged to let loose with a few drinks, with all drink proceeds going back to the Mission to Seafarers group.

The VIP experience is a longer evening, kicking off at 7pm instead of 7:30 or 8:30 (depending on which ticket you purchase), perhaps with a little too much time to mingle for smaller pairs. However, bigger groups would love the ambience of the bar, and plenty of hens nights and bucks parties were gathered around the fire with cocktails in hand.

From the bar, after a little bit of world building about a secret island of buried riches – and a potential mutiny on our hands – we’re moved on to dinner in a beautiful domed hall. We’ve been warned about the charms of mermaids along our boat journey, and of course who is presiding over our dinner but a pair of stunning mermaids. Decked out in beautiful tails and sultry makeup, the mermaids are in the centre of the room, surrounded by all the gold and jewels that have been washed away from other unfortunate ships over the years.

As is expected of any good dinner theatre, the food is absolutely wonderful. Dietary options are considered at the time of booking, but for anyone with an unrestricted diet there are full plates of chicken and beef available, and shared dessert plates among groups. During the main course I totally forgot about dessert, but I was NOT going to let cheesecake or tiramisu go to waste! At this point the story dropped off a little to ensure that everyone was fed and watered, but the cool, dark chamber kept up the magic of being on a boat journey, and the costumed staff were fantastically attentive to every audience member / hungry theatregoer.

Finally, after all the food and drinks a person could possibly consume, the real show began. We are reintroduced to the captain, his gorgeous first mate, his charming navigator, and the rest of their crew of dancers, and cabaret / circus performers. The cabaret portion of the evening is around two hours long, and after arriving at 7pm it felt like a bit of a long haul to make it to the end. The entire show remained enormously fun and energetic and I found myself bopping along to every song and backing track, though it would perhaps have been good to have a run sheet available somewhere so we could know the length of the night.

The cabaret, while loosely tied into the theming of travelling to the treasure island, is much more of a variety show, with a huge number of different kinds of acts, all tailored to the performers’ strengths. This was a delight to watch (and for some lucky audience members, to participate in) and really highlighted the talent of every person in the cast and crew.

Because of the variety show nature, there’s genuinely something for everyone to enjoy. There are comedy moments where the navigator lets out a non-stop stream (ha ha) of water-themed puns. There are seductive strip teases from almost every performer, men and women alike, and the sex appeal is palpable from absolutely anywhere in the theatre. The captain dresses up like a lobster one time, which is both funny and somehow sexy at the same time.

My personal favourite is a Dita von Teese-esque cabaret act where the man is a sailor, and his beautiful female counterpart is – feather fans for wings and all – a seagull pestering him for fries. The two have enormous chemistry even for something of a joke act, which sells the bizarre relationship between man and bird so well. I could not take my eyes off any part of it, not the gorgeously designed costume (even when it ended up on the floor) or the fluidity of the performance. Absolutely amazing!

As mentioned, there are moments of audience interaction. The Pirate Experience – and all other Queens of the Damned experiences – are designed for hens parties, bucks nights, and workplace events in mind, although there were also a huge number of birthday celebrations also called out throughout the cabaret show. A hen and a buck (and a freshly 21 year old man!) all were treated to strip teases on stage, which I’m sure was a laugh riot for all of their friends in the audience. There was also one beautiful moment leading into an upcoming hens night for sure – after one audience member won a dance competition, their prize was their partner coming onstage to present them with a ring and a proposal. Even thinking about it now is heart-warming, and to share that moment (with consent, surely) with a huge crowd of people to cheer them on must have been so extraordinarily special for the happy couple.

By the end of the night, I was exhausted. In part from a food coma, in part from laughing and gasping non-stop throughout the cabaret, and in part from the length of the night. From start to finish, VIP ticketholders could partake of The Pirate Experience for 4+ hours, which is truly insane value for money, all things considered. The beautiful and extremely talented cast performed almost non-stop (even appearing during dinner to check in with some of the guests) and killed it even to the final moments of the show. Plus, the food was fantastic, and having a few drinks to support hardworking seafarers rounded off the night wonderfully.

The Pirate Experience is absolutely a must-see if it comes to a location near you. There is singing, and dancing, and good food, and even good friends (if you bring them along yourself). There’s something for literally everyone to enjoy in the dinner and the cabaret itself, and if you don’t like it you can always get rip-roaring drunk at the bar in the theatre and yell at all of the performers to ‘take their clothes off’, like some of the rowdy audience behind my seats did. A really wonderful full evening of piratey, oceany, salty sailors and mermaids.

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