Steampunk is a rapidly emerging subculture and yet remains a concept that is still incredibly difficult to define. On the surface, it’s an imaginary foretelling of an emerging Victorian-era renaissance – complete with high fashion and peculiar gadgets. However, it’s overriding spirit is one that is deeply inclusive. For an audience looking to either embrace anachronistic escapism or merely peek through the porthole at the love affair for retro-futuristic science and fashion, Shrewsbury is a town that has embraced its Nu-Vaudevillian awakening with it’s now bi-annual Steampunk Spectacular, hosted at it’s historic Victorian Wightman Theatre.
In a similar semblance, the whole night was brimming with a variety of curiosities. At the source of proceedings were acoustic Steampunk power trio Rivers, Kidd and The Crow, a historical retrospective and burlesque crash-course from mistress of ceremonies Madam Zuri Arrosa, and Ichabod Steam allowing us a glimpse at his exploration of the void between realms, all leading us towards the night’s main event – The Captain of the Lost Waves.
After a brief introduction, it became abundantly clear that in front of us was a truly exceptional showman – characterising a show that was bristling with nuance and intrigue. While immediately enchanting the imagination, there was something exquisitely profound and intangible about the way in which the audience was transfixed from the off.
Holding aloft his ‘songbird sniff box‘ – a tiny trinket tin foretold to contain the dying breath of a Lovebird, and, inhaling deeply, the Captain let loose a sound akin to that of an operatic robin before encouraging the audience to do the same. Retrospectively, it was from this moment that the unanimous consciousness betwixt audience and performer became one and the same. Delightfully inventive, undoubtedly eccentric and impossible to characterise definitively, the performance set sail with an incomparable depth of fluidity.
And so began his splendid deliverance. With acute ability, and laced with digression, The Captain was eager for the crowd to join in every moment, and they were more than happy to do so. The room suddenly felt smaller with an enraptured togetherness as a bier-keller ambience swayed side to side for a rendition of ‘Berlin Between the Wars‘ – Again, the audience were like-minded in their willing inclusion. The Captain transitions effortlessly between musician and storyteller, on a journey that’s in equal parts wildly outlandish as it is deliciously bonkers.
Wandering through the aisles and serenading from empty chairs, melodic charm flowed through every note. Transitioning through a ‘Scandinavian-Kate Bush’ segue with effortless peculiarity, volunteers were then given kazoos to enhance a choral duet rendition of ‘Another Planet‘. It’s incredibly difficult to use words to describe the collective transfixiation, but it was a formula that felt unique and special throughout.
In a passing comment from on-stage, it was mentioned that audiences in the past had come to him to thank him saying that his live performances had helped in some large part to overcome some of their struggles with mental illness. One of the most poignant moments of the night was during the finale with crowd favourite ‘Mr Many Men‘, in which The Captain beckoned the audience to ‘make eye contact with a stranger, and sing to them’.
In a night including a taster session in burlesque dancing, any concept of self-consciousness had already been put to one side. And yet, there was still a small hesitation as you contemplated the social complexity of what was being asked of you. All at once, the message of the evening became abundantly clear – these barriers we perceive are entirely self-generated. As soon as my eyes met with someone (who’s backstory appeared, at first glance, immeasurably different to mine), the unforced smile that had been prominent all evening arose once again.
This show is not an ‘act’ in it’s essence – it’s a display of truth, in the nature of all of it’s profound silliness, encouraging a willingness within each individual self to unveil ‘what lies beneath’ in an environment devoid of fear or ridicule. The Captain has seemingly become less of a character, and more of a special being who has seemingly mesmerised and captivated audiences with near universal acclaim, hinting at a depth of fascination surrounding their mesmeric fixation.
Reunited with his eccentric troubadour of enigmatic instrumentalists, The Captain has launched a crowdfunding page in order to raise funds to release Hidden Gems – Volume 2, the second instalment of a trilogy, which will utilise vintage processing on a 2 inch tape machine to record.