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A Night of "Ghost Stories" in Toronto

on May 12, 2011 - 10:33am

On Tuesday night I was treated to a live performance of Ghost Stories playing in Toronto at the Panasonic Theatre, put on by Mirvish Productions.

I think my review of the show is less about the show itself, and more about a lesson in managing expectations. Plus, I have no intention of writing spoilers for people who still hope to see it.

So what is this show exactly? Well, if you go to the website, there's little specifics but a lot of promises (and even disclaimers):

Ghost Stories has left even the most hardened of viewers gasping for breath and reaching for their coats to hide behind. Truly not for the fainthearted or those of a nervous disposition, but perfect for anyone who wants a thrilling night out they'll never forget, Ghost Stories carries an advisory age limit of 14+. Ghost Stories mixes the very best of theatre with the buzz of a thrill-ride, delivering something unforgettable. Just keep telling yourself it's only a show. You have been warned!

To add fuel to the fright-filled fire, trailers and clips shown on television are simply shots of a terrified audience: jumping, screaming, hiding their eyes, almost sitting in the laps of their neighbours.

Ok. So I'm not sure what I'm going to see, but you promise to scare the pants off me. In fact, you're going to scare me, the people beside me, and the people behind me. There will be at least one moment where I will involuntarily curl up or jump or scream. It will be intense. Got it.

Expectation goes even higher once I take my seat. There is a night cam clearly positioned to my right, ready to catch my horror and shock.

Ok. I'm ready. I'm looking forward to being scared. Because to be honest, when walking through haunted houses, I'm a bit of a chicken. There are definitely moments when I look like those people in the audience. But bring it on.

So what expressions did the night cam catch me doing? Perking my eyebrow. Some smiling. A hearty laugh or two. An eyeroll. A confused expression. And finally, nodding my head with approval at a few parts.

If it hadn't been for the marketing of the show, I think I would have had a really wonderful time and left with a clear impression of how much I liked it. But instead, my brain was confused and trying to reconcile what I had seen on stage (and in the audience) with the expectation promised in the marketing. They just did not match up.

Instead of making me feel like I was walking into the film Paranormal Activity or as if I would be attending a professional haunted house (where I sat in the audience rather than ran through a maze), why not give me a more accurate comparison? Two other people I've spoken with agree it's more like a live performance of Creepshow or even Twilight Zone. Imagine how many more people may have gone if they'd known that?

And for the hardcore haunt folk who paid anywhere between $20 to $85 for tickets, how many of them felt ripped off because they were expecting something else entirely?

Manage expectations, people. For example, before the show we wanted to grab some food. After some deliberation, we went to a grubby local pub. In doing so, we knew what to expect: kinda seedy decor, middle of the road food - most of which is meant to be eaten with your hands - and a pint. And I went for what's inexplicably on almost every single pub menu: a quesadilla. Priced at the same level as it is everywhere else.

At the end of the meal, my dinner partner asked how it was and I actually said "Fine. Exactly what I expected it to be, though I was happily surprised by a hint of chipotle in adobo sauce". I'd gone in with the right expectations. I was satisfied. It was a quesidilla made in a seedy British pub. On the other hand, if I had walked into the pub expecting to be served authentic Mexican, or top quality lamb on tables covered in linen, I would have left the place a little let down.

There's some really great set design and artistic choices made in the show (especially during the second ghost story which was my favourite), along with some creepy ambience and successful blocking/directorial decisions. Had I gone in with different expectations, I think I would have left satisfied instead of a bit confused.

If you feel like watching a collection of short creepy tales live on stage, with loads of Canadian references, this is the show for you. And yes, at one point I heard the person behind me say "oh my God" in dreadful anticipation of what was coming next, but at no point did I see fear to the excess of what was in those trailers.

All in all, it's definitely worth the rush seats price of $20, though I wonder if anyone who paid $70 or more felt they got what they paid for.

Many thanks to The Zed Word who was generous enough to give me one of the tickets he'd won, and who tolerated my excitable babbling (in expectation of the show) and work-weary pessimistic mood after what had been an extremely long day. Hopefully he'll review the show and not me *wink*.

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