Review: The Basement Tapes at Summerhall

An imaginative young woman tries to put a cheerful spin on clearing out her beloved grandmother’s belongings after her death, but things take a sinister turn in The Basement Tapes.

The unnamed character, played with considerable charm and some killer dance moves by co-creator Stella Reid, discovers some old cassette tapes recorded by her grandmother, and that’s where everything starts to go off the rails. Grandma’s got secrets – a whole cellar full of them.

Despite some strong ideas and a really excellent deadpan audio recording from the ‘Grandmother’, there is something a little disjointed about the whole show, possibly deliberately. The team cites Twin Peaks as a major influence, and comparisons could definitely be made with the sense of lurking horror behind the façade of everyday life. Time warps, noises become distorted, and there are some great jump scares via the sound and lighting design. The slightly dank, claustrophobic performance space – a small room in Summerhall’s basement – certainly adds to the atmosphere. However, the payoff doesn’t quite live up to the anticipation, and it seems somewhat of a shame that the creators didn’t push the supernatural elements as far as they might have done at the conclusion.

Despite these criticisms, The Basement Tapes is a strong showing from the New Zealand contingent at this year’s festival, anchored by a solid performance by Reid, creative ideas and brilliant audio-visual design. The production has picked up numerous awards and it’s easy to see why. For those who like their theatre with a spine-chilling twist, this is a sure thing.

The Basement Tapes, Summerhall, 1-26 Aug (not 2, 13, 20), 6.30pm

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