A young woman is alone, cleaning out her late grandmother’s basement. Immersed in the flotsam and jetsam of furniture, nick nacks and tapes she left behind, the woman hears a recording that exposes a family secret.
The Basement Tapes is the work of New Zealand theatre makers, Chapel Perilous. Together they have developed a piece that swerves between moving and terrifying; this is the sadness and horror of grief.
It’s so rare for theatre to trade in dread or to effectively deploy jump scares. The Basement Tapes has both, trepidation seeping through every moment the main character seems trapped by the past.
There’s some beautiful humour weaved in through the script and in Stella Reid’s full-bodied performance. Reid is physical – we see her dance in defiance several times – and moving – frantic to get her mother on the phone or desperately trying to get the pizza guy to stay.
Director Jane Yonge has found a shape to this personal mystery that is both thrilling and sad. Lighting and sound design is effectively deployed as the show sometimes gives way to the haunting voice of the grandmother; the audience alone in the dark, listening to a tale as evocative as the one the granddaughter inhabits.
The Basement Tapes will leave you with a knot in your stomach, from fear and from loss; two threads in the same cloth.