Perth Festival review: Barking Gecko Theatre, A Ghost in my Suitcase ⋅
Heath Ledger Theatre, February 26 ⋅
Review by Rosalind Appleby ⋅
The supernatural children’s adventure A Ghost in my Suitcase opened at Perth Festival last night. Playwright Vanessa Bates’ adaption of Gabrielle Wang’s novel had its premiere in Melbourne last year, played Sydney Festival in January and has finally arrived in the home town of its creators Barking Gecko Theatre.
Barking Gecko is renowned for empathic, playful children’s theatre, and now it can add thriller to the catalogue! Directors Ching Ching Ho and Matt Edgerton have captured both the hair-raising adventure and the sensual, otherworldly flavours in Wang’s novel.
When twelve year old Celeste arrives in China her observations of the sounds, images and even the smells (garlic!) she encounters invites us into her experience of otherness. As her journey of self discovery unfolds we meet grandmother Por Por and Ting Ting and discover the family history of ghost hunting.
Quirky ‘journey’ cameos (bicycle riding, a leaking bus, a sampan boat) are interspersed with scary ghost hunting scenes, linked by Celeste’s reflections. Rachel Dease’s sound design sets the tone for each scene; gentle gongs and burbling water contrast with thunderous explosions and a singing voice (Celeste’s) that is darkly edged with distortion.
The white boxes and frames of Zoe Atkinson’s set design are rearranged and stacked to frame the action and provide backdrops for Sohan Ariel Hayes’ stunning video projections. The cliffs and mist of Cloud Island are particularly beautiful.
Some scenes like the ghost under the bed are the stuff of childhood nightmares, lit by Matthew Marshall in spooky reds or with strobe lighting. But they are balanced by humour and provide opportunity to witness Celeste’s gutsy resilience. Of course Wang’s ghosts aren’t just external. The biggest challenges for Celeste are the ghosts of her heritage and her grief, hovering in the background and bringing real weight to the story. With Por Por and Ting Ting at her side these and all the other ghost complaints are successfully resolved.
The most important part for my eight year old companion was the fight scene where Celeste and Ting Ting work together. And we’ll never look at goldfish the same way again!
Alice Keohavong is endearing as Celeste, Amanda Ma is a multifaceted Por Por and Yilin Kong pulls some cool martial arts moves as the aloof Ting Ting. They are supported by John Shrimpton and Frieda Lee in various roles.
Picture Top: Celeste (Alice Keohavong) watches as Por Por (Amanda Ma) and Ting Ting (Yilin Kong) battle a ghost. Photo Stefan Gosatti.