Suitcase Show

Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington

29/02/2024 - 02/03/2024

NZ Fringe Festival 2024

Production Details

Written by Ralph McCubbin Howell
Directed by Hannah Smith

Trick of the Light Theatre

Suitcase Show is an eclectic box set of short stories. Dark, spiky, and comic, each one is told out of a suitcase. The staging is inventive, from lo-fi shadowplay to wireless projection, from dancing disembodied hands to narratives that crackle from a 70s stereo suitcase.

Tiny in scale, but expansive in story, the work has been built through a series of showings in unusual spaces, from a pub to a photography darkroom. This Fringe season will be its full-length premiere.

WHEN: 7pm, 29 Feb–2 Mar
WHERE: Gryphon Theatre, 22 Ghuznee Street, Wellington
PRICE: General Admission $25.00, Concession $20.00

TO BOOK: Visit

Performers: Ralph McCubbin Howell & Hannah Smith
with Anya-Tate Manning & Richard Falkner

Stage Manager & Sustainability Officer: Emory Otto
Sound Design and Composition: Tane Upjohn Beatson
with additional composition by Robyn Bryant
Production and Technical Design collaborators: Brad Gledhill & Rachel Marlow, (Filament Eleven 11)
Videography: Dean Hewison
Craft & Prop Design: Hannah Smith, Ralph McCubbin-Howell, Rebekah de Roo, Romina Menses, Emory Otto

Marketing: Rebekah de Roo
Poster Design: William Duignan

Theatre ,

60 mins

Worth spending 50 minutes enjoying the trademark Trick of the Light creativity

Review by John Smythe 01st Mar 2024

The foyer of the Gryphon Theatre – currently designated FatG (Fringe at the Gryphon) – is packed with an eclectic range of Trick of the Light fans, eager to see their next offering. Doubtless they’ve seen all or some of Ralph McCubbin Howell and Hannah Smith’s previous shows: The Road that Wasn’t There (2013-20), The Bookbinder (2014-19), Beards, Beards, Beards (2015-16), The Devil’s Half-Acre (2016), Troll (2017-20), The Griegol (2021-22). Most are award-winning shows at home and abroad so the anticipation is palpable.

The production details supplied to Theatreview describe Suitcase Show as “an eclectic box set of short stories. Dark, spiky and comic, each one is told out of a suitcase. … Tiny in scale, but expansive in story, the work has been built through a series of showings in unusual spaces, from a pub to a photography darkroom. This Fringe season will be its full-length premiere.”

I take this as meaning the work is fully developed but following a 15 minute delay in starting (a peril of having a show with a complex tech setup sandwiched between two other shows with only 30 minute turnarounds between them?) there is a hold-up midway, to fix an audio-mixing problem. Subsequent sound is still not perfect so some of Tane Upjohn-Beatson’s otherwise evocative sound design and some mic’d dialogue remain indistinct. And at the end of the show McCubbin says they are still in development and he asks for feedback, at the bar, via a QR code or via their website. Since a review has been requested, I’ll offer my feedback this way.

In the pre-set gloom we discern a collection of different sized suitcases, redolent of an unclaimed baggage depot. Director and operator Hannah Smith sits at a tech-desk downstage left, facing upstage. As the houselights fade we realise a shadow of a tiny person is rotating on the lid of a small suitcase and discover there is a figurine on a turntable (in a 1970s portable stereo). Cute.

The portentous appearance and entrance of a back-lit Man wearing a long coat and broad-brimmed hat is a classic film noir trope. Actually the use of suitcases in stage shows has also become a well-used trope over the past couple of decades. A person with a suitcase implies an arrival or departure and instantly raises who, why and where questions. In this case – or should I say these cases – the enigmatic man (McCubbin Howell) is at a boarder of some kind facing questions about the contents of the cases from a seated woman (Smith). The heavy echo effect on her mic renders most of her words unintelligible (a device they also used in The Devil’s Half-Acre so I assume it’s intended).

Her insistence on wanting bags opened provokes gentle word-play and the comment that this is not lost luggage but the luggage of the lost. As each case is opened, a story plays out that justifies that claim.

There the tale of a Little Match Girl for whom an unseasonable fall of snow is more than a match, played out on a tiny town-scape. Two creatures made of hands with bright coloured eyes perform what turns out to be a mating dance. Another story involves hand shadow puppetry where the shadow behaves differently from the hand – a cleverly created effect where the medium (for me) transcends any message. And from where I sit, a hand gets in the way of its shadow.

A tiny model train features in another story. There is a telescope in space that looks back at our blue planet through time, in millennial leaps from 6024 to 2024. Climate change becomes the focus and its refugees – or are they displaced victims of war – become the carriers of suitcases, evoked through an extraordinary blend of OHP, animated projection and shadows.

Throughout, the enigmatic Man warns the Boarder Guard the contents of the cases may reveal more than we wish to know and that all the stories end the same way. Meanwhile the Boarder Guard has screen contact with two colleagues (Richard Falkner and Anya Tate-Manning) who play cards and drink while waiting to be sent someone who needs special attention.

Inevitably the Man is sent there … and I find what happens there problematic in ways I can’t discuss fully without spoilers. Put it this way: while The Grim Reaper is a harbinger-cum-personification of Death, s/he is not a murderer. As I understand it, s/he harvests souls. But what we see in the climactic scene is a display of visual trickery that, for my money, cheapens what we’ve been drawn into. Or is the jokey ending intended – like the jig at the end of a Shakespearean tragedy, or a Satyr Play after a festival of Greek Tragedies?

Obviously there will be technical improvements tonight and tomorrow. But overall I feel the component parts still need to coalesce in a way that becomes more than the sum of the parts. A critique of the human condition, perhaps, wherein the fatal flaws are exposed that lead to the inevitable downfall of humanity. 

Meanwhile it’s worth spending 50 minutes enjoying the trademark Trick of the Light creativity.  


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