Review: High Life (Beyond The Round Productions)

High Life is dark comedy about a heist gone awry on stage at Toronto’s Scotiabank Studio Theatre

A few nights ago I found my self in Parkdale, in a little hub of theatre in the city. I rushed into Pia Bouman’s Scotiabank Studio Theatre to see Beyond the Round Production’s High Life. Sold as a dark comedy with repulsive cons and an attractive heist, I was intrigued to see the show, ‘cause boy do I love a good heist story.

High Life is by Lee MacDougall and was originally a screenplay which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009. High Life follows an ex-con, Dick, as he puts together a team of junkies to rob a bank. Being junkies, the heist does not go quite as planned. Before the lights dimmed, my show buddy, being a huge fan of dark comedy told me how similar High Life was to Reservoir Dogs, a  ’92 dark comedy.

On the outside this sounds like a great play; the opportunity for hilarity seems plentiful. Unfortunately, this play was not my cup of tea. I like to think that I can appreciate dark humour, but I just did not get this. Whether it was the writing or the pair of first time actors, the jokes fell short of their potential and made the show feel like it was dragging on.

With the play running just short of two hours, I found my self getting antsy before much of the action had even begun. Maybe I have a ‘meme and Tumblr’ generation’s short attention span, but two hours feels like a long time for any medium to hold an audiences’ attention. In long operas, there are usually a few intermissions and the same goes for theatre and dance, and movies seem to stick to the 90 minute mark.

In one scene, the four junkies had to wait for 20 minutes for their master plan to come together. The scene felt like it took 20 minutes if not longer. The impatience of waiting in a small space could have been portrayed in less time. I feel like a little bit of editing could have made High Life much more succinct and enjoyable.

On the other hand, the actor p0rtraying Donnie, Victor Pokinko, did a great job. Pokinko got the dark humour in High Life and most importantly knew how to play it. With his high energy performance, he grabbed the audience’s attention every time he took the stage.

I would like to give a shout out to the casting and the costume design. Both of these elements came together beautifully. The actors with their seemingly ragged hair, tattoos, and dirty and eccentric clothes looked the parts of four junkies. I honestly thought I was watching a bunch dirty druggies on stage.

As a bit of an aside, it was great to see a predominately female production team. In a profession where women outnumber men but receive lower rates of pay than men and who see top positions only about a third of the time, this young, mostly female company is a breath of fresh air. The director, producer, production designer, costume designer, and stage manager were all female. What I find exciting is that they produced a play that had the potential to be enjoyed by a wide range of people. It’s great to see this group of recent graduates put themselves out there and seeing what happens.


  • High Life is playing until August 2 at Scotiabank Studio Theatre (6 Noble St)
  • Shows run Tuesday to Sunday at 8pm, with an additional matinee on Sunday at 2pm
  • Ticket prices are $20 and are available online, or at the door

Photo of Troy Stark and Blayne Smith. Photo provided by the company.