Heath Ledger Theatre until March 3
Perth’s terrific theatre for young people, Barking Gecko, has been a frequent contributor to the Perth Festival, and it’s only fitting that it’s latest production appears in a year that has seen something like ten “Made in WA” productions gather critical acclaim and, even more encouragingly, box office numbers.
A Ghost in My Suitcase deserves both. The story, adapted by Vanessa Bates from the novel by Gabrielle Wang, of a Chinese/French-Australian girl, Celeste (Alice Keohavong) who returns with her mother’s ashes to the small town of her family and the house of her Por Por – grandmother – Madame Bao (Amanda Mar) in China is entertaining — for both its younger and older audience – and enlightening about the culture and mores of both our countries.
Her adventures, her rivalry and eventual alliance with Ting Ting Shen (Yilin Kong), the great-grand-daughter of the man who ruined her family, is told in a style familiar to lovers of Sino-swashbuckling cinema and the supernatural elements it often contains.
While the narrative falters occasionally, and the climactic battle is a little underwhelming (especially in comparison to what has gone before) and predictable, the story of ghosts, ancient feuds and the triumph of courage is well told, gripping enough and lots of fun. I’ll leave the details for you to discover when you go!
What makes this show is its gorgeous imagery projected onto boxes expertly manoeuvred into position on an otherwise bare stage, the expressive soundscape created by the ubiquitous Rachel Dease and the fine performances by all three cast members.
The cleverly devised, knockabout staging of the show by co-directors Ching Ching Ho and Barking Gecko’s departing AD Matt Edgerton is illuminated by the visual design of media artist Sohan Ariel Hayes, richly coloured and textured, evocative and often remarkably three-dimensional. One scene, as our heroes float through the canals of Zhujiajiao Water Town is as cunningly constructed as it is breathtaking.
Keohavong, Ma and Kong are all excellent, and well supported by Freida Lee and John Shrimpton in the plays minor roles. The lithe, athletic Kong, a dancer by training and previous experience, is especially effective in a performance straight out of the wuxia playbook.
A Ghost in My Suitcase has already gathered many admirers on its journey to the Perth Festival. The short season here will win it many more.