Spoilers are an unnecessary evil at the best of times, in the case of Séance, they would be fatal. Our congenial but malevolent host, Nick Wallace, even requests that no secrets be revealed. Early in Séance, Wallace quotes the progenitor of most horror, HP Lovecraft,
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown
Wallace then sets out to play on that emotion of fear by using the unknown, principally darkness.
Wallace is a skilled raconteur and his mini-lecture on spiritualism, post-mortem photography and the ghosts that we are going to attempt to contact, is spellbinding while setting an eerie mood. He is upfront about being an illusionist rather than a scientist or ghostbuster. He proceeds to demonstrate some basic magic tricks that are artfully designed to be not too slick, and that are just successful enough to plant doubt in our minds that there might actually be other forces at work.
Theatre Passe Muraille is, when stripped to the brick walls, a black and spooky place. The lighting is subtle and evocative and director Luke Brown (Jesus Christ Superstar, Nature of the Beast) has modulated the pace to give Wallace a mellifluous grace that lulls us into wanting to believe.
And then there is a séance.
The audience on opening night was small but pumped. We jumped in the appropriate places, volunteered to be assistants or the medium itself, and were ready to scream in terror and/or laugh.
What happens during the séance is what is not to be spoiled.
Audience participation is a tricky thing. Though we were all enthused - skeptical but wanting to be thrilled - and reasonably awed by the storytelling and conjuring, the séance, the main event, was low energy. The narrative was satisfyingly resolved, but there were no big scares or moments of heart-pounding, or seat-wetting, terror. Despite being a horror and dark maze fan, I am fairly easy to unnerve, and I kept hoping for an "I've got to get out of here" moment or some unbearable tension.
With a larger or more boisterous audience, or more boisterous spirits, Séance could be a lot of fright-filled fun. But even when the ghosts are recalcitrant, the stories, illusions and spookiness are an amiably unnerving evening.