A collection of six short horror plays opens in Toronto in time for Halloween
Ghost Light Anthology, the Toronto debut of Aberrant Theatre, collects five short scripts, six actors in multiple roles and numerous surprises, scares and shocks.
The five episodes are difficult to name as no program is distributed. I understand that’s sometimes a budgetary constraint or sometimes a desire to keep items secretive while the audience waits; nonetheless it feels odd as only one of the five pieces hinges on a reveal – and that particular solo play by Katerina Watson is the highlight of this uneven night of horrors.
The evening starts with greetings in the courtyard of The Box from various creatures. We are welcomed to the ritual and invited to partake of the blood offering. This is a thread I wish the production had carried forward, especially as the company does claim that the Anthology is immersive.
The show begins with a ceremony incorporating all the actors on stage and culminates with an event that ends the show on an uncertain high note. Our audience was unsure whether the show had ended or not and didn’t applaud for a solid twenty seconds until prompted by the stage manager. I usually feel that indicates the director hasn’t found a satisfactory conclusion for the piece. However, as the cast does not come out for a bow, director Jordi O’Dael likely knows the audience will be a bit confused.
By contrast, O’Dael’s transition scenes are well conceived if a bit too slow sometimes: alternating movement with provocative lines about how long it takes for one’s eyes to adjust to the dark. Tragically, the space doesn’t allow complete blackouts to occur, which often limits the fear an audience might experience. Meanwhile the soundscape of the piece waivers between live sounds created by the cast and the occasional prerecorded sound effect.
Standouts in the cast include David John Phillips in the first piece, Fortune’s Fool, Kate Werneburg’s compelling monologue and Lucy Meanwell as Daisy in Grant MacDermott’s finale.
One of the evening’s strengths is the variety of scares it goes for. The first piece is a conventional Twilight Zone tale involving a mystical carnival game whereas the final episode echoes a Black Mirror pickup scenario and in between we’re questioned about the nature of memory.
The third piece, Lapse by Jake Martin, baffled me with its short repeating scenes and turgid acting. I thought it felt more like a film study than a theatrical discovery, with a title that eludes more clearly to the content than the production manages to. It felt like the structure of the scenes and the location seemed illogical and deliberately unclear.
With a boldly confrontational land acknowledgement, I hoped the piece would challenge and incorporate the audience into the proceedings but Ghost Light Anthology tends to stay safely behind the fourth wall though. While that might work for a typical play, I think it feels too tame for a collection of horror promoted as something dangerous.
- Ghost Light Anthology is playing until October 31, 2018 at The Box (89 Niagara Street)
- Shows run Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, with a special closing on Wednesday October 31 (Halloween)
- Ticket prices are Pay-What-You-Wish with three options: $15, $25, $35
- Tickets are available online or at the door with cash
- Due to the limited seating capacity, booking in advance is suggested
Photo by Jordi O’Dael