The Basement Tapes

Wed 1st – Sun 26th August 2018

reviews

Tamzin Kerslake

at 09:27 on 11th Aug 2018

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The atmosphere of this play starts as you begin your descent into the abandoned female locker rooms below the Summerhall venue. ‘The Basement Tapes’ is described as a thriller, and the intimate seating in this little thrust theatre certainly plays the part well. Scattered with boxes of old things, the eeriness is created, and you can hear the hushed giggles of scared anticipation as the light goes down and the voice on the telephone asks, ‘hello?’.

‘The Basement Tapes’ is fully aware of its genre, and totally parodies with it. The audience is in the palm of her hands as Stella Reid flounces around the stage of her deceased grandma’s bedroom. This vegan millennial who listens to rap music is hilarious. Taking full advantage of the expected genre of horror, she creates many moments of tension and jump-scares, only to make the audience dissolve into laughter. Clever and humorous, she Reid takes control of the stage. Her actions are relatable: dancing around and trying on her grandmother’s clothes in this empty house, even turning the coat into a living being. She is a refreshing portrayal of a young woman in her twenties going through such an emotive experience; her strength and courage in humour was balanced beautifully through moments of fear, confusion, and mourning.

This even continues when Reid finds 'The First Tape'. Her grandmother’s momento. A recording that should never have been played. The use of technology is brilliant in playing with the audience’s mind as she tries and tries to rewind the tapes and find the answers to the questions they pose. A huge congratulations is in order for the technical team, whose perfect timing and use of lighting and sound meant that the action or tension never once did fail. The entire creative team use the small theatre excellently, working with every nook and cranny. Whether it is the blue hypnotic lights to 'Moonriver', or being plunged into darkness with only the voice of the deceased grandma for company, the tech takes the audience on their journey, working perfectly alongside Reid.

Absurd montages, physical theatre and a charming delivery guy: this show is a stand out, supernatural, unexpected gem. It is hard to write much more without spoiling the plot, but this show has both humour and horror, expertly combined into a very enjoyable hour. It left the audience calling out for more answers and myself wanting to call my mum on the walk home through the darkened Edinburgh streets…

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Marie-Louise Wohrle

at 09:57 on 11th Aug 2018

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I was torn over whether to be excited for ‘The Basement Tapes’ or dread it. I am not a fan of horror of any kind, yet at the same time, the show’s description intrigued me. It is rare to see a stage production attempt thrillers in a serious fashion; most companies and writers fall back on humorous, comical horror. For me thankfully, but for more horror-inclined audience members probably disappointingly, the first half of the show is just a normal day cleaning out one’s dead grandma’s basement. The horror aspects of the play develop gradually throughout, and really only come to an extreme in the last third of the show.

The fact that the show is set up in the basement of the venue is a nice touch. It is the only show playing in the basement, which allows for a more elaborate set design of cramped shelves and specifically placed lights. The show relies heavily on sound and light effects to set the mood - from echo effects to dramatic deep basses. I personally found a lot of the sound effects, especially the bass, physically uncomfortable to the point where I stopped focusing on the show. But the echoing, used to set a spooky mood, was perhaps the most beautiful moment of the show.

This being said, the plot was largely lost on me both in the beginning and end of the show. The beginning is odd, and I still have no idea why there needed to be a dance routine involving twerking, but the play quickly sets up that we are watching a woman, played by Stella Reid, sort through her dead grandmother’s belongings. This is followed by a mixture of clowning and physical theatre, which is nice to watch, but feels too long and out of place. Eventually, the protagonist finds a tape her grandmother left her, telling a story of a night in the summer of 1971, Wellington, New Zealand. From then on, the thriller aspects develop, and are done well for live theatre. I sadly didn’t understand the last minutes of the plot at all, which left me feeling slightly disappointed after the show.

‘The Basement Tapes’ certainly held moments that chilled me to the bone (no spoilers), as well as poignant and beautiful moments: for example, the protagonist’s realisation of how little she knew about her grandmother, “all the little things you never told me … because I never asked you”. Throughout, the play included subtle humour, such as the vegan pizza – flat crust, no cheese – which somehow made everything feel more real to me. However, the length of the introduction and confusing plot during 60% of the show threw me off. I would recommend this show to my friends, because its latter half is an excellent take on a thriller on-stage, but would let them know to expect a strange first half.

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