Victorian-style ghost show thrills and chills on the Toronto stage
Séance is one of the tightest and tiniest shows you’ll see this season. Your host (co-creator Nicholas Wallace) lectures, guides, cajoles and creeps the audience through roughly 90 minutes of decidedly spooky parlour games. Presented in turn-of-the-century style, and supplemented with a heaping side of ghost stories, all the greatest hits are here: automatic writing, levitating furniture, spirit rapping, mediumship, and the grand finale, a full-blown manifestation.
I’m a skeptic. I went a skeptic, and I came away a skeptic. But even I was moved by the sheer visceral fingers-down-your-spine aspect of Séance — and if you’ve a more open mind than I, your experience will almost certainly be downright spiritual. (Inspired? Possessed?)
Weirdly enough, I think this is an ideal date show. The entire evening is framed around discomfort: opening yourself up to experiences, pushing yourself beyond your zones and barriers, and trusting that something magical is about to unfold. Sometimes I thought it veered into hokey, especially when the patter starts to sound like an old-timey poster for the show: Never Before! Until Tonight! Has This Been Attempted! Anywhere!
But it’s at those peak-hokey moments that the writing behind this piece really shines. This is such a taut and finely-tuned piece — such a carefully-crafted show — that even the warps and gnarls feed back into the emotional narrative. You wanna buy it? You’re in for a hell of a ride. You wanna be smug about rejecting it? Well, they’re perfectly happy to confound you, too.
Assessing it strictly as a value-for-dollars entertainment, Séance is a treat, and one of the few things which could be accurately described as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Even if you’re cold to the notion of slates writing on themselves and a ghost ringing a bell to communicate, you’re in for a damned good time.
And if you — or someone you love — goes in for this stuff, in any way or on any level (horror movies; supernatural occurrences; the sheer pleasure of listening to other people scream in the dark), you will not find a better way to spend an evening.
Catch this one before it disappears beyond the veil.
- Séance runs through October 11th at Theatre Passe Muraille,16 Ryerson Ave. near Queen and Bathurst.
- Plays Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 PM, inclusive. Occasional weekend matinees and late-night performances; see box office website for details.
- Tickets are $35. Arts workers get a $5 discount.
- Tickets can be purchased online, in-person from the venue box office, or by telephone at 416 504 7529.
- Although the show does not feature any gore or violence, it it emphatically scary, to a degree which will be uncomfortable for many adults. The company advises that those below the age of 12 should not attend.
- This show relies upon audience participation, and while not everyone will be called up to participate, those who are chosen were not given an elegant way of refusing on the night our reviewer saw it.
- This show uses various special effects which cannot be described in detail without spoiling the experience. They are all part of the standard toolkit which is widely deployed at rock concerts. If you would find that environment to be unsafe, you should not attend this production.
Photograph of Nicholas Wallace provided by the company.