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Review: A Ghost in my Suitcase at Sydney Festival

Updated: Jan 16, 2019

By Hamish Stening

Recently there has a lot of talk about how to attract young people to the theatre. Most of the discussion has been centred around the high cost of ticket prices and young people being priced out, but another major issue is that theatre, as a medium, can be very inaccessible, particularly to those who have not seen a lot of it before. It is an underappreciated skill to sit through a play and maintain focus without break for 75 minutes, particularly when there is little action or visual eye-candy and one is normally accustomed to 10-second snapchats or all-action, all-CGI Marvel blockbusters. Barking Gecko Theatre’s family-friendly show A Ghost in my Suitcase demands a lot from its young audience, but the pay-off is very worth it and co-directors Ching Ching Ho and Matt Edgerton should be applauded for the messages they are sending their audiences, and for the work they are doing to prepare the next generation of Australian theatre-goers for more difficult, complicated and important shows in the future.

The show is adapted from Gabrielle Wang’s award-winning novel of the same name for stage by Vanessa Bates. It is about twelve-year-old half-French, half-Chinese, all-Australian Celeste (Alice Keohavong) who travels to China to scatter her mother’s ashes. She is welcomed by her grandmother (played by Amanda Ma) who immerses Celeste in Chinese culture and traditions before revealing that all of the females in her family are ghost hunters. What follows is a beautiful depiction of some of these traditions and they are given vibrance and authenticity by the ensemble of all Asian-Australian actors.

The play does not pull any punches, appropriate anything or otherwise pander to the majority of the audience who do not share any of Celeste’s heritage or experiences. This is a huge risk, as is the very exposition-heavy script and minimalist lighting and set, and I fully expected a lot of the audience to lose interest, but they didn’t. They stayed with the story, with the characters and with the messages of the show.

Barking Gecko Theatre want children and families to embrace a life full of curiosity, empathy and play and they have done a fantastic job with this show. It is hard to talk about all of the show’s messages, themes and clever metaphors without giving away the ending, but I can say that the show expertly deals with surprisingly sophisticated and complex issues associated with finding cultural identity and assimilating it with other identities. Best of all, the show does stop – as so many children’s show do – to explicitly explain the metaphors in the show, or to spell out its take-away messages. It trusts the audience to think, just as it trusts them to stay with a seemingly inaccessible play. It is this kind of theatre that trains and prepares young Australians for more difficult (yet very important) theatre in the future, and this kind of theatre that produces aware, open-minded and empathetic members of society.

Photo Credit: Prudence Upton

All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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