Jane Yong’s taut devised production gives the impression that every element is carefully curated, from the precise placement of moments of tension to our physical environment, an actual basement room in Summerhall carefully dressed in the accumulated detritus of an elderly person’s past life. This setting creates a relatively tense atmosphere, aptly for a show billed as a ‘Twin Peaks meets Serial’, the audience are inescapably placed in what could be a classic setting from a horror film. Indeed, as we begin, we are plunged into gut-clenching darkness and hear the chilling strains of a desperate girl’s voice as she tries to make a call on an ancient landline.
The moment is quickly destroyed with a humorous line, the lights flickering on to reveal athletic performer Stella Reid springing out of a cardboard box. The disruption of expectations with humour is where this production really excels; despite the tense undertones, there is the very real feeling that we voyeurs have a window in to the (often ridiculous) ways that a person behaves when they think that they are alone. Tasked with clearing out her deceased Grandmother’s basement, the protagonist (referred to only as ‘A Girl’) is very easily distracted by what she finds. Her own flights of fancy around the objects serve to entertain her greatly: a radio playing static becomes a stun gun, wooden toys become cigars. There is dancing, sharp and often hilarious commentary, amusing phone calls to a Mother who never seems to pick up, but the feeling too that something dark is waiting in the corners. This is heightened when the girl finds a cassette player and what is ominously named ‘the first tape’.
Hearing her Grandma’s voice on the tape is an affecting moment, both for the girl and for the audience, a palpable change in tone seeping through the small space. As Grandma begins speaking about a complex, bizarre and troubling moment in her life, the tension is realistic and extreme. We are given a welcome reprieve via the arrival of an unsuspecting visitor, only to be plunged in much deeper than before the next time. The skill here is the way in which the audience’s attention is kept, the knife edge precision of swinging between humour, both physical and verbal, to fear, and back again. The twists, when they come, are unforeseen and impactful, perhaps sometimes stretching the bounds of believability, but the more delightful for it, and grounded by very real reactions. This makes for an exciting, fraught and imaginative production, which utilises its space incredibly well and is delivered with real aplomb by this New Zealand-based company.