REVIEW: A Ghost Tale (The Basement)

Review by Tim George

A Ghost Tale by Benjamin Teh

[A Bit Wispy]

Theatre is not always good at creating a visceral experience — the medium is designed as a platform for exploring ideas, not action (let’s take musicals and pro-wrestling out of the equation). Anthologies are also difficult to pull off — not only do you have to provide a strong set of tight stories, you also have to provide a wraparound narrative or theme that ties the whole thing together.

Written by Benjamin Teh, A Ghost Tale is a valiant attempt at tackling a genre anthology onstage. It is an interesting gumbo of ideas and themes which don’t quite blend together.

According to the programme, the show was inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Roald Dahl’s more adult short stories (such as ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’). While this influence is there, none of the individual stories manage to really hit. The biggest problem is that scenarios don’t really build to anything — there are no killer punchlines to tie the stories off in a satisfying way. And the focus on literal ghosts and supernatural goings-on robs the show of that sense of existential dread Poe was so famous for.

While none of them are really bad, they are not strong enough to sustain mood or explore the themes they tease. There are stories involving incest, regret, depression and the devil, but these themes are either too obvious or not developed enough to have an impact. Only one segment really chills, involving a haunted toilet and a ghoulish redefinition of the word ‘hiding’.

The cast, consisting of James Maeva, Rhema Sutherland, Travis Graham, Emma-Mae Ellington, Alex Dyer and Nicole Stevens, are all solid.

The show is directed by Jesse Hilford, who stages the action as theatre-in-the-round, with the audience surrounding the players. Since the stories are told as ghost stories around a campfire this makes sense, although its dramatic potential feels diluted by the size of the venue (the Basement Studio).

Ultimately, while a few segments are entertaining, A Ghost Story never comes together as a truly frightening theatrical experience.

A Ghost Tale plays at The Basement until 12 Nov. Details see The Basement.

SEE ALSO: Theatreview.org.nz review by Nik Smythe

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