Nicholas Wallace's hit spook show gives theatregoers some delicious tricks and treats
Some shows require reviews that are as close to spoiler-free as possible, to preserve the secrets and surprises that they contain. Seance, written and performed by Nicholas Wallace and directed by Luke Brown, is a show best enjoyed by knowing as little as possible apart from the basic premise: a stage performer with an interest in the paranormal presents evidence of several unnatural events with no clear logical explanation. Placing himself on the line between believer and skeptic, he offers the evening as a series of experiments in contacting the afterlife, culminating in the event itself—an old-school Victorian-style dark seance (at times pitch dark) in a sealed room with the audience in a circle holding hands as the spirits are called to make their presence known.
As someone who has studied and enjoyed seance magic (or “bizarre magic” as it’s sometimes known) for many years, I was excited to hear that Nicholas Wallace had brought his show to Theatre Passe Muraille for a pre-Halloween run after a number of successful engagements in theatres outside the city. While mental magic, stage illusions and street magic have gained popularity among a new generation of audiences, seance theatre presentations are relatively rare: the illusions are generally more complex and require a high degree of skill to bring viewers and participants under their spell; they benefit from intimate settings and are difficult to perform in larger venues with unforgiving sightlines and a greater capacity for distraction; and for some audiences they are just too unsettling (or, for viewers steeped in the digital age, too hokey and unconvincing). I wondered, as I settled in, if my familiarity with the techniques involved would get in the way of my enjoying the performance as a whole.
I needn’t have worried. Seance is a smart, sharp spook show, creatively staged and eerily effective. Wallace is an engaging storyteller and a gifted illusionist who makes good use of the cavernous Passe Muraille Mainspace, and he brings some fresh twists to a number of classic routines. While a few key moments seem amped up for the modern age, Seance is largely true to its low-tech Victorian roots with several effects that left me happily baffled. I can’t really say any more, but if you’re looking for some scary fun at the theatre, Seance will have you jumping and screaming.
I feel obliged to note that this show relies significantly on audience participation, either on the stage or at one’s seat, which as we know is not everyone’s thing. Taking part is not mandatory, even for the final seance itself, but it does enhance the experience and make you feel that you’re witnessing something out of the ordinary.
Seance runs at the Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace until October 11, with shows Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m., matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2, and special late-night performances on October 3, 9, and 10 at 10:30 p.m. For tickets, visit artsboxoffice.ca.