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Print Version
Photo by Tabitha Arthur
Photo by Tabitha Arthur
NZ Fringe 2014
Tabitha Arthur: Director
Ryan Smith: Composer

at The Royal Local Alehouse & Eatery, Wellington
From 14 Feb 2014 to 1 Mar 2014

Reviewed by Hannah August, 15 Feb 2014

The concept behind Traces is a good one: dig up some ghost stories from New Zealand's past, bring their characters to life in the atmospheric basement of the Royal Alehouse on Lambton Quay, have your audience make its way by torchlight through eerie passages and encounter a succession of pale-faced, bloody figures.

“Just like a haunted house!” my American companion remarks gleefully, anticipating the frights he's experienced at theme parks in the past.

The concept is less good in actuality, however, and curiously, there's nothing scary about this show. While director Tabitha Arthur may have deliberately adopted a presentational rather than confrontational style, the result is a theatrical experience that is largely unengaging.

This also owes something to the show's lack of narrative substance. While the back-stories of eight ghosts are given in the programme, only three of these are developed using dialogue in the hour-long performance.

Promenade theatre isn't known for its linear narratives, but they shouldn't be entirely replaced by a reliance on ‘stations': locations at which actors are to be discovered silently performing the same repetitive action. These can be effective when audience members are permitted to stumble upon them of their own accord, but when led there by another actor and obliged to observe the action for a set amount of time before being moved on, they can create frustration or boredom. 

It's a shame that the elements of Traces which have evidently involved time and effort to prepare – the projections, the animation, the puppetry – don't cohere to form a more satisfying theatrical whole.

The definitive highlight is the original music by composer Ryan Smith, which is performed live by Smith and musicians Robyn Jaquiery and Heather Elder. If you don't fancy the show, you can always buy the forthcoming album.
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