On stage in Toronto’s Kensington Market is a play ripe with creepy small town horror
Having grown up with both Stephen King and David Lynch, I have a deep affinity for horror stories set in small towns where strange things happen. Tire Swing, presented by Filament Incubator (in association with Epigraph Collective), is a poetic and haunting play about growing up with the shifting and unreliable memory of a traumatic event.
Late one night, four children encounter a shadowy figure in the woods beyond their town. The most adventurous, Kevin, never comes out of the woods. A rift forms between the three survivors (the names escape me) and the community as the memory of the lost boy warps the atmosphere of the town.
The story is broken up into the key coming-of-age stages of our character’s lives. In their teenage years: hormones, alcohol and social pressures complicate their already shaky grasp on what happened and who they are. Before going off to college, leaving the town and their trauma behind, there is a fiery, spectacular climax where they face the reality of what actually happened to their friend back in the woods.
I was struck by the beauty and potency of Curtis te Brinke’s script. The characters also serve as narrators, suddenly jumping out of the action to give us poetic, retrospective reflections on the events as they unfold. I often find myself irritated by this technique because the text is rarely as insightful or intriguing as the writer thinks it is. Here, however, there is such startling and compelling imagery. These emotional truth bombs work so well because of how simple and spontaneous they sound.
The cast (Francois Macdonald, Jocelyn Adema, Patrick Fowler and Nikki Haggart) do a fine job of adjusting their body language and voices to suit the various ages they’re portraying. They all have moments to shine, but I felt that the two women (Haggart and Adema) were the most consistently natural and nuanced.
Jason Thomson’s minimalist set and lighting create a rich atmosphere rife with eerie possibility. The basement venue has been decked out with twigs and foliage, the back wall a black void where sinister images are occasionally projected. In the murky corners of the space, behind the audience, are the bedrooms of our three characters where they take shelter from the oppressive woods.
Sadie Epstein-Fine’s direction keeps the audience on their toes by weaving the action around them. One artistic advantage of theatre over film is the freedom given to the audience to focus their attention. As the characters interact, they are rarely all within easy sight, so you have to choose who you will look and and when. Sometimes, I found myself just staring at a piece of set and letting the words and sounds wash over me.
I loved the unsettling imagery of murdered animals and shadowy, amorphous shapes creeping through the town. The mythic quality of Kevin’s disappearance is perfectly realized, so I was disappointed by the final resolution. Because the truth of what happened to Kevin is hinted at from the beginning, the final reveal and conclusion didn’t feel satisfying. I wished that the facts of what happened continued to be overshadowed by the monstrous, fable-like emotional truth the characters have been struggling with.
Despite a great soundscape that invokes a forest full of threat, the pre-recorded monster voice is…unfortunate. It sounds artificial and, for me, spoiled what was a generally captivating visceral experience.
The story thoughtfully explores the experience of feeling trapped and alienated by a community that can’t quite heal itself. With similarities to IT and Twin Peaks, Tire Swing feels vaguely—and pleasantly—familiar in it’s story elements. My own childhood nightmares came creeping up on me during this spine-tingling and poignant production.
- Tire Swing is playing until October 22, 2016 at 56C Kensington Avenue (basement).
- The show runs Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30pm
- Tickets are $15 to $18 and can be purchased at the door or online
Photo of Nikki Haggart, Patrick Fowler, Jocelyn Adema and Francois Macdonald by Jordan Laffrenier