Based on the book (and illustrated novel) by Gabrielle Wang of the same name, this is a sophisticated and poetic rendition adapted by Vanessa Bates, ostensibly for children, but calibrated also for an adult sensibility.
Barking Gecko Theatre's A Ghost in my Suitcase.
This play by Barking Gecko Theatre focuses on adolescent Celeste (Alice Keohavavong), lovingly nicknamed Little Cloud by her grandma Por Por (Amanda Ma), as she travels from homeland Australia to motherland China, to return her mother’s ashes. There she encounters a truculent rival of sorts, her grandma’s ward TIng Ting (Yilin Kong). The title of the book/play offers a portentous clue of the contents and yes this is a show about ghosts, in particular the chasing and exorcism of them. But it’s a slow getting of wisdom for our heroine, who only gradually learns she may have inherited the gift of ghost hunting. This singular gift is passed down the matriarchal line.
In a rarity for Australian theatre, the cast is all Asian, though Celeste happens to be 'half-Chinese, half-French and all Australian' and her multilingual ability stands her in good stead in one case of ghost-human communication. A Ghost in my Suitcase deals with unresolved tension in past and present guises.
The set is simple but effectively organised: there are blocks of varying sizes upon which video images are portrayed. So, elaborate and ancient building facades as well as busy canal scenes are shown as the characters move from scene to scene. It’s a tale that roams as restlessly as those unsettled souls who haunt the living and covers themes of grief, familial respect and rivalry, blood and non-genetic ties, loyalty to one’s roots and a letting go of the past. It’s also a tale of (female) empowerment. Celeste, who starts off as rather timid and unsure of herself, particularly against the more aggressive Ting Ting, grows in self-belief and confidence as she becomes unwittingly involved in, and an integral part of family tradition.
All the actors perform admirably and there are martial arts and eerie song as part of the ghost-fighting repertoire. It’s a cohesive mix of realism and fantasy. Particularly impressive are the lighting effects when the disgruntled ghosts are felt and heard. There’s just the right amount of spookiness to enthral but not scare a young audience.
A multi-generational show that explores cultural identity, A Ghost in my Suitcase is beautifully realised in theatrical form.
4 stars ★★★★
A Ghost in my Suitcase
Author: Gabrielle Wang
Playwright: Vanessa Bates
Director: Ching Ching Ho
Director: Matt Edgerton
Set and Costume Designer: Zoë Atkinson
Lighting Designer: Matthew Marshall
Composer and Sound Designer: Rachael Dease
Featuring: Alice Keohavong, Amanda Ma, Yilin Kong, Frieda Lee, Imanuel Dado
Barking Gecko Theatre
18-21 October, 2018
Melbourne International Arts Festival