Halloween is the one time of year when spirits are allowed to return to earth instead of being stuck in the underworld. On October 23 at the Cameron House, seven ghosts interacted with the living world in the opening night of a production called “DRINK WTIH DEATH”, a 45-minute bit of theatre where they told, through song, the various ways in which they died. It was a dramatic departure from the usual form of theatre, being a lot more interactive and hands-on than usual.
For starters, the “stage” took a roughly traverse design — albeit with a front stage as well — with audience members seated along the walls and the ghosts walking down the centre when not hanging out at the back or front stage. There was also an emcee (Romana Soutus, who doubled as director) perched high above the bar in the back, illuminated by green light and introducing each ghost before they sang their respective song. Lastly, the ghosts handed out shots of whiskey near the beginning, which definitely does not take place in any theatre (it helps the Cameron House is usually a bar when it’s not Halloween and spirits rise from the dead).
Two of the ghosts were women: Sabina (Sarah Jane Scouten), a Roma woman, was impregnated by a baron and misinterpreted her grandmother’s instructions to reclaim her honour, while Ada Dahli was Reverend Rufus Brett, a fire-and-brimstone preacher who hung himself. Neither of their singing was particularly strong, with Scouten unable to consistently stay in pitch (in voice and with a violin), while Dahli was just too quiet and couldn’t be heard unless right in front of you. In terms of staying in character, though, Dahli looked like she truly enjoyed being a mouthpiece for God, while Scouten appeared as though she couldn’t quite decide how innocent, vengeful and determined her Sabina should be.
The men performed markedly better, in different ways. Overall, their voices were stronger and more expressive, although some to be reaching a little far, like Michael Louis Johnson, a Native man who froze to death in the snow, who couldn’t quite muster enough gravel in his bottom register, while others didn’t go far enough, like Freeman Dre as Ryan, a lovesick man who took a bullet in his heart. Jaash Singh as an Indian merchant who favoured whiskey over child-rearing was particularly impressive, swaying and grinning stupidly and even managing a belch to recapture the attention, as was Christopher Weatherstone as Lester, a man so mean, he’d “cut out your tongue just for fun”. Darren Eedens as a bluegrass man who just couldn’t manage to punch above his weight was somewhere in between, doing fine when banjo-ing and embodying his persona but not so much when singing; he didn’t always enunciate clearly enough to completely tell his story.
As mentioned earlier on, the ghosts took many liberties in interacting with the audience, whether it was grabbing audience members to tango with or upending the chair of yours truly to leave standing while he sat on it in the middle of the room. While attendees tittered, it mostly out of nervousness (is this supposed to happen in theatre?) rather than impressed humour. And it was in this the ghosts truly did a marvellous job: they succeeded in blurring the gap between theatre and expectations, erasing preconceived notions of what a performance should consist of.
If the purpose of theatre can be distilled into one concept, it’s this: to get the audience to respond with every ounce of their being and forget they’re being performed for so that they can be challenged on matters of, well, life and death. Each person in this world has a story to tell and too often, they get pushed to the side. Those who walk among us, living or dead, are unique people who sometimes get lost amid the noise, but at “DRINK WITH DEATH”, that wasn’t the case.
“DRINK WITH DEATH” runs through October 30 at the Cameron House. For more information and tickets, visit the “DRINK WITH DEATH” website.