Review: This Side of Heaven (Humber College Theatre)

Toronto’s Humber College Theatre presents a showcase of multi-talents in This Side of Heaven

2015-01-25_1422151039This Side of Heaven cannot be contained by a stage. The show uses promenade staging, so that players and the audience mingle on the floor. The players travel across the large expanse, taking a moment to stare at the audience members who stay in their seats. They stop to make eye contact, to sing, or to wag their tongues mockingly. This Side of Heaven isn’t a play – it’s a spectacle.

This Side of Heaven is an experimental smorgasbord. There was dancing, singing, dialogue, monologue, puppetry, and circus acting. It was a taste of what Humber Theatre has to offer. A variety of talents compacted into a show. I was in awe of the multitude of what was unfurling in front of me.

The original production, co-created and directed by Varrick Grimes and Kiersten Tough, is comprised of Theatre Performance and Theatre Production students from Humber College. The show felt like the culmination of the students’ training. They took every opportunity to prove their skills. It explains how every moment felt like a way to show off their creativity. Instead of having props of monsters, they played with cut-outs and lights to make sinister silhouettes. Instead of dressing up as a ghost, they used plastic sheets to create an aura of ghostliness. These details were nothing short of impressive.

The one problem I could see people having would be following the story itself. I have to admit, I barely captured the plot of the show. I knew that the show was about exploring the realm between life and death, but all the details in between were hard to tie down. There were Irish people complaining in purgatory about their deaths and inabilities to move on. There was a man who traveled down into depths of the underworld, meeting Charon and seeing the tortures brought upon the dead. The characters transform often, taking on another voice or role to suit the moment. Sometimes characters from different parts of the story act side-by-side, like an Irish woman with a mythical Greek character. The twinning shows similarity, contrast and the melding of the after-life.

The plot is not the only thing that is difficult to follow. Physically it was hard for me to capture everything going on in front of me. Players moved in all different directions. They spoke over each other, singing and chanting different songs. It was like being in the middle of a party and wanting to be a apart of each conversation. I had to accept that I would only catch snippets of what was going on, because my eyes and ears could only register so much. There are limits to my human capabilities.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy myself. This was a wonderful spectacle to witness. I would suggest to anyone watching to reign in an expectation that this will be like an “ordinary” sit down play. The show is an experiment of the senses. I suggest sitting back and getting lost in the chaos. If you take it as it is, you can appreciate its glory.

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Photo provided by Humber Theatre