Saturday, October 26, 2013

Review: (Toronto) You Can Sleep When You're Dead

Lea Russell (photo by Samantha Hurley)

No rest for the wicked-ish
by Dave Ross

“A beating heart is snatched from a person’s chest… a man in the kitchen tries to save his life from a cook’s savage hankering...a priest initiates an exorcism for the good still left in the demon’s host.” These are some of the events promised you in the Campbell House Museum this Hallowe’en, as Theatre Lab mounts their interactive theatre experience You Can Sleep When You’re Dead.
This work was borne of writers Omar Hady and Michael Orlando, and the thrill one could experience from taking part in an exorcism, the fears one could have. What began as an idea has come into being as a very ambitious immersive theatre piece. Directors Hady, Orlando and Tom Arthur Davis effectively induce chills in every member of the audience. Set as a series of vignettes in the history of the Campbell House, the audience is guided through the many rooms of this 19th century home, experiencing six individual scenes, climaxing with the final scene as the priest attempts his exorcism. 

If chills and fear are what you seek, this production will not disappoint. The creative team takes steps from the very beginning to destabilize the audience, confusing them from the get-go. Each audience will experience a slightly different arrangement of events at each performance. Performances are, for the most part, strong. There are some weaknesses, most notably in the “Will” vignette with it’s barely-believable characters, or “Little Sparrow” where it was very difficult to hear the dialogue. The scripts are also reasonably strong, but certain segments suffer badly from cliché. Hady writes that he was “convinced [he] was surrounded by spirits conjured up from researching and writing the piece.” Unfortunately, these spirits seem to be those of Linda Blair from the 1973 film “The Exorcist.”  At times, I found myself suppressing a smirk at some of the events - I’d seen them before. This reliance on established and well-used plot devices spoils the creativity in other parts of the production, particularly in the transitional spaces between vignettes. These transitions are by far the most unsettling, and hence interesting parts of the entire production. 

Tis' the season for unsettling, spooky stories, and this production achieves this. Despite its shortcomings, it did have me on edge, and for that it should be lauded. However, it is experienced more as high-end haunted house than anything else – a great way to have that perfect amount of halloween spook. 

You Can Sleep When You’re Dead runs to October 31 at The Campbell House Museum. Tickets via or at the door.

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