There seems to be an uptick in major Canadian theatre companies presenting Halloween-themed fare this October. It’s not just a time for haunted houses and actor-augmented screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show any more, apparently.
While I don’t entirely relish the prospect of the country’s not-for-profit theatres being entirely overrun with spooky shows each October the way holiday shows take over in December, we’re nowhere near that scary situation just yet - and many of the spine-tingling shows appearing on stage right now are more artistically ambitious and original than, say, the annual flurry of A Christmas Carols.
At the Grand Theatre in London, Ont., for instance, a new play called Grand Ghosts is running until Nov. 5.
Written by Trina Davies (Silence, The Romeo Initiative), it involves a group of ghostly characters trying to get the bottom of the real-life mystery of Ambrose Small, the Canadian impresario who mysteriously disappeared in 1919, days after selling his theatrical empire (including the Grand in London). This world premiere has an impressive cast and is directed by the Siminovitch Prize-winning director Jillian Keiley.
(If you’re curious to know more about Small and aren’t in the London area, journalist Katie Daubs recently published a book called The Missing Millionaire about him.)
In Vancouver, meanwhile, Touchtone Theatre is staging Yaga, Kat Sandler’s contemporary feminist reappraisal of the wicked witch of Eastern European folklore known as Baba Yaga (Oct. 27 to Nov. 5 at the Cultch). Martin Morrow reviewed this thriller-comedy in its world premiere at the Tarragon Theatre in 2019.
A number of Sandler’s plays with supernatural or gruesome elements could be programmed around Halloween, come to think of it, such as Sucker or Mustard. It seems a smart time to put on one of the popular playwright’s shows and potentially expand her audience even further.
In Montreal, the Segal Centre has gone the most whole-hog Halloween of any Canadian theatre this month with not one, but two monster/horror classics.
Frankenstein, a new family show co-produced by Kidoons, opened on Oct. 19 and runs until Oct. 30. The clever creatives Rick Miller, Craig Francis, Paul Van Dyck have newly adapted Mary Shelley’s novel for the stage as a “living comic book”.
At the same time, Dracula: A Comedy of Terrors, a 39 Steps-style five-actor adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel by Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen, is on the Segal’s other stage through Nov. 13 with the Shaw Festival’s James Daly starring.
Is there that much appetite for Halloween fare? Lisa Rubin, the Segal Centre’s artistic and executive director, says Frankenstein has sold out - but she’s still “waiting for word of mouth to kick in for Dracula.”
I’m not sure how much Rubin meant that as a vampire pun, but she is observing - as so many other people running theatre right now have - that ticket purchases are becoming increasingly last-minute.
I wonder if that pandemic-driven tendency might lead to more theatre companies programming fare tied to larger holidays and events in coming years? Rubin adds this as an explanation for the kind of shows haunting stages right now: “With how difficult the last few years have been, our audience is clearly craving comedy, fantasy and escapism and we’re happy to oblige!”
New theatre company alert
B&E Theatre is launching this week in Toronto with an immersive production of Doubt: A Parable, John Patrick Shanley’s 2004 drama about a nun investigating possible abuse in a Catholic elementary school that did the rounds of the regional theatres and was made into a 2008 movie. Dora-winning director Stewart Arnott is directing for B&E at the Church of the Holy Trinity near the Eaton Centre (Oct. 27 to Nov. 13).
Dance-off in Toronto
There’s some serious competition for contemporary dance dollars this week in Ontario’s capital.
Human Measure, the Canadian performance artist and bodybuilder Cassils’s first foray into this particular genre of live performance, is on at Canadian Stage from Oct. 27 to 29. It sounds fascinating: A live response to Yves Klein’s Anthropometries paintings (for which he used women as “brushes”) featuring trans and non-binary performances and “rooted in kinesiology, martial arts, sports science”.
Meanwhile, the great London-based, Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shecter’s company - which has often been presented by Canadian Stage in the past - is at Harbourfront Centre with a double bill called Double Murder. This is also on from Oct. 27 to 29.
Other notable openings across Canada this week
Dora Maar: The Wicked One, like Double Murder, sounds like a Halloween show but is not. This play by Beth Graham and Daniela Vlaskalic (best known for their collaboration The Drowning Girls) is about the relationship between the French photographer Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso; it’s being presented by Workshop West at the Gateway Theatre in Edmonton from Oct. 17 to Nov. 6.
Bluebirds, a brand-new historical drama by Vern Thiessen (Vimy, Shakespeare’s Will), opens at Theatre New Brunswick this week. It’s about three nurses caring for wounded Canadian soldiers in the First World War. In Fredericton from Oct. 26 to 30, director Natasha MacLellan’s production then heads on a tour of New Brunswick through Nov. 6.
Aalaapi, a trilingual (English, French and Inuktitut) collective creation I highlighted in my fall theatre preview, is on at the National Arts Centre in a collaboration between the Indigenous and French Theatre departments from Oct. 26 to 29.
What the Globe and Mail is reviewing this week
Mean Girls, Tina Fey’s own musical adaptation of her 2004 teen comedy of the same name, starts a stint in Toronto today. Mirvish Productions is presenting the North American tour at the Princess of Wales through Nov. 27.
Look for our reviews of these shows later this week and early next week.