Double Bill: Nosferatu @ Old 505/A Ghost In My Suitcase @ Sydney Festival

Wow! What a week of theatre. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Blanc de Blanc, Sydney Festival, and the 505. Looks like my wallet is empty, and so has the blog for some time. Hoping to get many reviews to you guys over this month.

I have somewhat mixed opinions about the Old 505’s Nosferatu: A Fractured Symphony. On one hand, I liked the potential of the concept of reviving the partially-lost German original and applying it to an Australian context. There was certainly an originality to it that captivated me throughout the performance, but that potential was not always recognised in the script and direction.
The young acting quartet (adopting multiple roles over the 90-minute performance) try their best to make sense of the issues the play explores, from casual veganism to Australian anti-LGBT attitudes to our property market and truth-bending politicians, but at times lines and entire scenes fall flat. Jeremi Campese’s opening monologue as Nosferatu (I think?) is more a web of pop culture references than a genuine introduction (and don’t get me started on what his character does with a used tampon); Lucy Burke’s drawn-out moments eating Maccas or watching porn seem somewhat unnecessary; and Annie Stafford’s love of Negronis and alcohol showers are watchable but a little overdramatic. That being said, I don’t believe it’s not their fault; they’re doing the best they can with the lines that they have, and give as good of an ensemble performance as they are allowed to. On a notable bright point, Lulu Howes manages to make most of her dialogue work; when she’s involved in her main role, it’s lovely theatre, from both a scripting and performance perspective.
From a design aspect, I feel a duty to remind all audience members to periodically check a small screen to the top right of the stage (displaying title cards from the German masterpiece). As the most consistent explicit link to the original inspiration, it sometimes slips into the background too easily, lost amidst its imaginative depiction on stage.
In the end, I think the play’s biggest issue is out of its control; in a packed theatrical landscape, I fear it will get lost. Which, for all its shortcomings, is always the most disheartening aspect for a young team who can and should be making mistakes at this early stage of their careers.

A Ghost In My Suitcase almost suffers from completely opposite issues.
A short piece that should entertain kids and fascinate those fascinated with Chinese spirituality themselves, author Gabrielle Wang and playwright Vanessa Bates make the notion of Chinese ghost hunting highly accessible to an Australian audience thanks to the connection they develop with leading character Celeste (Alice Keohavong), an individual whose knowledge of China grows at the same rate as the audience. Keohavong’s performance itself is one for the kids; they should love her. For the older viewer, there are more things to be appreciated in Amanda Ma’s and Yilin Kong’s performances as Por Por and Ting Ting respectively – I found them more intriguing as the more mature characters as a result of their strong characterisation, though at times their performances veered close to underdone. Never has a flatter ‘yes’ been spoken in response to a question if someone had died. Higher characterisation-based praise goes for Frieda Lee and Imanuel Dado as ensemble characters; they do what Nosferatu tried to, and give us extremely well fleshed-out cameos as scene-stealing minor characters. That being said, the entire cast is not only great to watch because of their Asian-Australian heritage (big up Crazy Rich Asians, a movie I still haven’t seen), but also because of their physicality; the fluidity of their movements, particularly in ‘hunting’ sequences, is a testament to their effort.
To me where this show shines (literally) is its design. The use of multiple projectors to create multiple sets of the Chinese landscape, presented on stage via veiled blocks and veiled wooden scaffolds, is one of the strongest examples of something like this that I’ve seen. Bravo stage technician Matt McCabe and the entire set team, who takes us from airports to rivers to mountaintops and haunted houses seamlessly.
I wish, though, that there were more exploration of ghosts and spirituality in Chinese mythology. Where do ghosts go after their work is done? I wonder. What are the struggles of living as a ghost hunter? What was the purpose of Por Por’s magic mirror (no Spiegeltent pun intended) or coin sword? I think the play makes some attempt to answer these questions but gets too concerned in its plot and the need to tie up loose ends to focus on my geeky questions. Oh well, looks like I’ll actually have to read a book.
So where Nosferatu missed out, A Ghost In My Suitcase picked up (albeit haunted by its own minor lingering issues). A show as lovely as last year’s Alice In Wonderland, though more ingenius in its set design. I would make a Ghostbusters reference to finish this review but it seems SMH stole my line. Thanks Joyce.

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