Review: All in the Timing (Down n’ Out Productions)

It’s All In The Timing at Toronto’s historic Campbell House Museum

Campbell House Museum is a venue that is ripe with possibility.  The Georgian-style home is serving up a delectable dinner theatre with All in the Timing, which also serves as part of Toronto’s Winterlicious celebration.

All in the Timing is a series of 5 sketches/short plays , all written by playwright David Ives.  Campbell House teamed up with Down n’ Out Productions to make this rare dinner theatre experience happen downtown.

Timing itself is a big part of this production as scenes are punctuated by a series of “dings” from a service bell.  It was clever from a production that could use only the light dimmers and the furniture around them.  I was surprised by how much the house was made to accommodate the performance rather than the other way around.

I was under the impression that the show was to begin at 7:30 but it was 8 minutes before 8:00 before it actually got going.  There were also major pauses between each piece as the actors set up.  So this was now a show that was two hours long after a lengthy dinner and was fighting itself with 10- or 15-minute gaps between scenes.  The good news was this crowd had a few glasses of wine and cared less about the content and more about the laughs, although the numbers of participants seemed to diminish as the night grew on.

So rather than being one cohesive narrative, it was a series of short scenes and, due to this, it resembled more of a sketch comedy type of show then an actual play.  My date Mia and I quite enjoyed the staging.

The first scene was called “Sure Thing” and it was a scene about a young man and woman meeting for the first time.  It relied heavily on the aforementioned service bell.  Each misfire by the man or woman caused the bell to ding and the players jump back to the moment before the misstep. Mia loved this clever staging in this scene and so did I.  There was a good amount of quick precision here that served the scene.  I was surprised by the amount of swearing for a dinner theatre in this scene and the ones that followed.

The next scene was in the living room area, a piece called “Variations on the Death of Trotsky.” Here, 1940s author Leon Trotsky, with an axe in his head, learns about the misfortune of his own death.  This scene was the most absurd (kind of reminiscent of the work of Sam Shepard) and for that reason I think it was my favourite.

The next piece was called “Words, Words, Words” and Mia and I each found this our least favourite.  It was a musing on writers as performing monkeys. I kind of felt like it was a piece about writers, for writers.  Which I guess means I should of liked it but the feeling for me felt more like, “Yeah…I get it.”  The reference jokes felt dated.

Mia’s favourite scene was the next one, entitled “Philadelphia”.  She liked the idea that each city has a feel and that you can carry that feeling around in your life. At about this point in the show, I was desperately craving some Canadian content in such a historical place and instead, I had young actors imitating American accents.  A cute idea in theory, but the scene itself didn’t do much for me.

The final piece was cleverly written and the strongest.  It was a great testament to the amount of work and preparation an actor does!  Called “The Universal Language,” it was 20 minutes performed entirely in gibberish.  But it was a very precise gibberish and the audience was blown away by the actors’ detail and precise timing.  Definitely an impressive ending for the evening.

I loved the idea of this show and I really want to commend the cast and all those involved in making it happen.  I just didn’t love the content itself. It felt very early nineties to me. For all of the creative possibilities of the space, the show itself felt a bit tired and uninspired. I really wanted it to work, but it just didn’t quite for me.  There just was nothing fresh about this piece.

The real star of this piece is the museum itself and I have to say it overshadowed the play. I’m so bummed because I wanted to love it more.  But if you want to do an American play from 20 years ago, why do it here?  If your aim is to create a dinner theatre environment at Campbell House, why not complement the rich Canadiana atmosphere with work from Norm Foster or Sharon Pollock? Or if you want slightly absurdist comedy from the 90s that is easily staged, Daniel MacIvor’s got tons.

I just left feeling that this play didn’t deserve such a great Canadian historical landmark.  That said, it is a wonderful reason to visit one of Toronto’s most intriguing and historical spaces and clearly creates a good night out. That is surely worth the price of admission.


Runs to Feb 12. Door opens at 6:00 pm for dinner at 6:30 pm;
evening ends about 8:30 – 9 pm
$55 including HST and gratuity
Tickets available by telephone: 416-597-0227 ext 2