A GHOST IN MY SUITCASE is soul food for the spirit … whatever age you find yourself to be. From the opening projection of a red koi and with a whoosh and a tinkle of bells, audiences are captivated by this splendid production. The story begins, the worldbuilding begins and the watchers, whether they have read the book or no, are transported to a place of enlightenment, joy and self-knowledge.
Celeste has lost her loved mother and is bringing the ashes back to China for ritual scattering. For the first time she will meet her maternal grandmother, Por Por who is feisty and powerful. This little woman is a ghost hunter, a skill often passed down in the female line and Celeste will need to confront her own doubting demons before she can see clearly enough to know if she is possessed of the art too. Por Por also has a ward living with her, a serious and defensive Ting Ting who is not keen to share Por Por’s precious mentoring time.
It’s a tricky concept for a children’s work, ghosts. But what Barking Gecko Theatre have done is to make absolutely clear what is what. It’s a brilliant theatrical manifestation of pedagogy … be sure that children know what each scene is. This one is eerie, this one is sad, this one regretful, this one absolutely the time now to enjoy being frightened. With such excellent scripting from a superb book (Vanessa Bates from Gabrielle Wang) and direction (Ching Ching Ho and Matt Edgerton) which minutely creates mood and environment, the children are supported in their understanding and emotional response.
It is also crafted to be fully accessible to any age. There’s no side jokes or concepts and ideas to keep the carers interested. Instead the work stands alone as intelligent, character based and narrative driven. When Ting Ting shows her bully side on first meeting Celeste, “see that red fish” every age in the room is ahead of the unknowing visitor … we see something coming and are united in worry. I heard every person around me hold their breath. Magic created!
As Celeste, Alice Keohavong gives a wholly enjoyable character in the way she shows the joy in the new, a naïve delight in experiences and yet has times of being unsure. Amanda Ma subtly expresses a slightly distanced Por Por, unaware of the tensions of having a new person in the house. It’s important that this character be slightly aloof so that the emotions can be logical and uncluttered. With a surprisingly physical performance, Ma brings a service-oriented grandmother to love and learn from. Also extremely physical is Yilin Kong’s Ting Ting. Vibrant movement and a very secure grasp on the redemption arc, Kong rounds out the triumvirate of impressive performances.
Triangles of power occur often in the play and the ghost battles have a jubilant leaping , focussing aesthetic that you just know the kids will copy when they act out the show in the back yard. The tech is also bold but never obvious. Fabulously conceived, created and presented, the complex projections are just beautiful in places, sighingly lovely, yet other times they are utilitarian, simply part of the world Celeste finds herself in. The confusion of an airport. With a flexible neutral coloured set and lighting that avoids the cliché and obviousness, “red pillars” might suddenly appear from lesser designers, the production is designed for touring without any flimsiness. The audio score is delightful also, with its struck temple bells and drums profoundly used plus a ghosthunting reprise pulsing with energy.
A GHOST IN MY SUITCASE is great theatregoing which fills a little space inside you didn’t know you had. Nourishing, salty and sweet with a take away taste that you want to share. Delicious!