Ah yes, there’s nothing quite like the isolation of an old farmhouse to help calm the nerves. Who cares about the grisly murder from years ago, the ghost that haunts the home, and the madman still on the loose, they’re just stories, right? Well, time will tell.
Vertigo Theatre, in association with Western Canada Theatre, presents Canadian playwright Peter Colley’s I’ll Be Back Before Midnight as its 2015/16 season opener. Celebrated as one of Canada’s most widely produced stage plays, Colley’s I’ll Be Back Before Midnight conjures up big laughs and big scares in this thrilling tale of sanity and spirits.
Directed by Daryl Cloran, I’ll Be Back Before Midnight tells the story of Jan (Brieanna Blizzard) and Greg Sanderson (David van Belle), a married couple reunited in the country after Jan’s nervous breakdown. Greg, an archeologist, has rented the farmhouse so Jan can recover while he pursues his studies at the nearby quarry. Unfortunately for her, farmer George (Paul Cowling) has plenty of gruesome stories to share about the area and the house itself, disturbing an already spooked Jan. And when Greg’s manipulative sister Laura (Alana Hawley) comes to visit, Jan’s situation only goes from bad to worse.
With the play being set in the early 1980s, audiences will immediately notice the lack of modern technologies to not only debunk the supernatural (through an effective Google search), but also provide comfort, say via Skype, in this remote setting. And so, like campers around a fire, the audience is drawn into a world at the mercy of nature, the supernatural, and whatever horror lurks in the darkness of rural Ontario. The terror of the unknown is alive and well within these walls of a supposedly haunted house.
And there are plenty scares to be had, especially with the uncertainty surrounding Jan’s state of mind. Colley steers the audience between reality and fantasy in this narrative ripe with twists and turns. And there is no greater (stomach) turn than the unsettling relationship between Greg and Laura, which raises the eyebrows inside the theatre very high as it unfolds. Audience members will have fun deciphering the clues and questions that surface, though some might find the ending unsatisfying given the buildup.
The scares are made more effective by the humour found in Colley’s script. One moment, the audience enjoy the good, if slightly odd, nature of farmer George, played wonderfully by Cowling; the next – well, that would be a spoiler, but be assured that it is a visually exciting moment that has the audience jumping out their seats. Colley’s ability for both humour and horror, and the interplay between the them, is top-notch.
Precise direction by Cloran keeps the action light on its feet inside set designer Scott Reid’s cozy farmhouse. Jonathan Lewis’ sound design contributes greatly to the evening’s creepy atmosphere with its measured control.
Hawley delivers both menace and an eerie allure as Laura, a most unwanted house guest. Van Belle’s vitamin-obsessed, rational thinking Greg is played with superb timing and gesture. (Perhaps Van Belle will keep his truly retro running attire since he seems so confident in them!). Unfortunately, Blizzard has difficulty in riding the emotional ups and downs of her character, lacking the sort of nuance needed in such a dynamic script as this. Blizzard does shine, though, is in her scenes with Cowling, which are real gut busters, thanks to their great chemistry together.
Overall, Vertigo Theatre’s production of Colley’s I’ll Be Back Before Midnight is an enjoyable romp full of thrills and laughter. Colley proves himself a fine storyteller, demonstrating why this play is so widely produced. Those looking for a strong, early start to Halloween need look no further than Vertigo Theatre’s I’ll Be Back Before Midnight.
Vertigo Theatre’s I’ll Be Back Before Midnight runs September 19 – October 18th at Vertigo Theatre’s Playhouse.
For more information about the show and how to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.vertigotheatre.com/ill-be-back-before-midnight/