A young woman alone in the basement of a family home sorting through the accumulated junk left behind by her recently deceased grandmother is the kind of set-up that could move in several different directions.
The Basement Tapes teases out these possibilities with mercurial shifts in tone. Stella Reid, playing the part of a stroppy and slightly quirky young woman, keeps the audience guessing about which way the show will go with abrupt mood swings.
Humorous banter about vegan pizzas, ironic comments on family foibles and comedic dance moves are sharply juxtaposed with moments of intense emotion that build suspense while creating a strong impression of vulnerability.
With the chance discovery of an old audio cassette, director Jane Yonge starts toying with horror movie conventions and it becomes clear the audience is in for a fright. The disembodied voice of the deceased grandmother coming through a cassette recorder — ancient technology — creates a spooky atmosphere enhanced by dramatic lighting effects and Thomas Lambert's high volume soundtrack.
As the recording takes on a bizarre and confessional tone, the theatrical effects are amped up and the show delivers visceral psychic jolts that have the audience on the edge of their seats. These kind of effects require careful staging but also depend on the distinctive sense of physical presence which makes live theatre so appealing.
The intimate space of the Basement Theatre contributes to a strong connection between performers and audience, and the horror-movie thrills are nicely undercut by the appearance of Joe Wright as an easy-going pizza delivery guy.
The show certainly delivers on dramatic effects but is perhaps a bit thin on content with the poetic text hinting at ideas about connection, loss and identity that could be further developed.
What: The Basement Tapes
Where & When: Basement Theatre, until Saturday
Reviewer: Paul Simei-Barton