Review: You Can Sleep When You’re Dead (TheatreLab)



You Can Sleep When You’re Dead is a collection of haunted house-themed vignettes playing at Toronto’s Campbell House

Very little is known about the history of the haunted house as an attraction or Halloween event. It seems clear that they began to take cultural hold in North America in the late 60s and early 70s, and spread quickly as a fundraising idea during a time of year that fell well between car washes and holiday wrapping paper. The typical experience is base and caters mainly to the adrenal glands – it’s dark, things jump out unexpectedly and shriek. You shriek, the people two narrow hallways over hear your shrieking, everyone is excited and scared.

If that’s the haunted house you’re looking for, don’t come see You Can Sleep When You’re Dead, which is a far more subtle pleasure. Combining sensuality, blasphemy, and storytelling in a well-balanced recipe, the vignettes of the You Can Sleep When You’re Dead, site-specific to Campbell House Museum, are mostly a treat and not a trick.

Though certainly trickery is used throughout the piece (billed as a silent tour of the haunted mansion), and any number of things are simply not what they seem at first to be. But the haunted nature of the series of small plays isn’t “Gotcha!” in nature, it’s the slow dawning realization that something profoundly worrying underlies things which initially seem normal. Without spoiling surprises – more difficult than usual for this review – I can say that attention to story detail is more than usually rewarded in this event.

The one unfortunate note of the evening was the creepy, ghostlike children gambolling and skittering around the house as our two groups of spectators were walked from room to room. They did their bits well enough, but they never made sense to me – why were they there? Were they supposed to make me scared-er? I never understood, and that made them distracting.

Overall, the You Can Sleep When You’re Dead ranges from good to very good, with a few piercing moments. The very, very large cast acquit themselves admirably, several playing multiple roles with aplomb, and the writing is largely interesting. I wasn’t ever carried away into the magical place with this site-specific collection, but it’s certainly an enjoyable and Halloween-y 80 minutes of things to watch. And don’t worry: the butler didn’t do it.

A note on accessibility – You Can Sleep When You’re Dead requires patrons to be able to climb up and down stairs, moderately quickly, and there are not always enough seats in each room. If you have mobility challenges, it may be best to phone ahead.