Review by Sean McQuaid
It’s Thursday night at the historic Kings Playhouse in Georgetown, PEI. An ornate black podium looms above the audience as swirling wisps of fog and the faint strains of eerie music fill the dimly lit air. Eventually, the stage lighting turns blood red as a cloaked, hooded figure appears like the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.
The apparition pivots, strides slowly but purposefully downstage and takes the podium as the spectators stiffen in anticipation. Turning its gaze toward the audience, the phantasm doffs its hood – and reveals the friendly, familiar face of Playhouse executive director Catherine O’Brien. “Oh thank goodness” whispers one young patron, exhaling gratefully.
Thus begins Haunted Georgetown, “a guided walk through the haunted theatre and into the historic streets of Georgetown.” The original playhouse was built in the 1880s and the town itself dates back to the 1700s, so plenty of spooky legends and ghostly tales have developed over time. The Kings Playhouse conducts a fun walking tour built around these stories, told here by O’Brien with assistance from interns Destiny Best and Morgan Duncan.
O’Brien fares well as host, smoothly paced and alternately solemn or playful as the material and the moment requires. The staging is mostly effective, though they might consider investing in a less prosaic prop to house O’Brien’s speaking notes – whether she’s in or out of hooded wraith mode, a garden-variety binder doesn’t quite suit the ghostly mood, though that’s an exceedingly minor quibble in the grand scheme of things.
I’ve visited the playhouse since childhood as audience member, performer, reporter and so on, hearing many eerie stories: tales of inexplicably moving objects, flickering lights, clutching hands, disembodied whispering voices and the like. Older theatres tend to spawn such yarns. While I’ve yet to experience anything solidly supernatural in the playhouse myself, I did have a quasi-spectral experience in another old theatre once, so maybe ghosts just like drama.
The feeling seems more than mutual, the playhouse having warmly embraced its supernatural elements. One ghost affectionately dubbed “Captain George” has a seat officially reserved for him in the theatre, and anyone else sitting in it reportedly sparks misfortunes or malfunctions. O’Brien’s ghostly presentation begins with Captain George and other phenomena specific to the theatre, tales of swaying chandeliers, erratic lights, physics-defying playing cards and more.
Paranormal investigators, psychics and ghost-hunting TV shows have all visited this theatre and tend to come away believing something unearthly is present, perhaps in part because the building was constructed atop an old burial ground (always a red flag in the movies). O’Brien spends much of the Haunted Georgetown show beyond the theatre, however, leading her audience outside to spots like the public gardens, the courthouse and various historic properties, sharing a mix of ghost stories, true crime tales and other local legends.
Strolling the streets at night adds a lot to the experience as O’Brien speaks of phantom soldiers, flickering street lights, the Minnie McGee murders, disembodied voices, historic hangings, the old funeral parlour, a ghostly girl seeking her lost baby and a doomed sailing vessel’s tragic tale of fatal prophecy.
Half the fun of the outdoor segment is its unpredictability – wind, rain, animals, shadows, voices, noises, you never know what you might encounter in the dark. As we walk, a nearby church bell rings for no apparent reason, much like the bell in one of O’Brien’s stories. They say that’s never happened before, and as a newly wide-eyed Duncan edges nervously closer to O’Brien, you tend to believe them.