BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

30/05/2017 - 03/06/2017

Chaffers Apartments, 1 Clyde Quay Wharf, Herd Street, Te Aro, Wellington

10/02/2017 - 14/02/2017

NZ Fringe Festival 2017 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

“The most visual medium for me is radio. There’s nothing more visual than sitting in the car while the radio is playing” – Robert LePage.

Following her Grandmother’s death, a girl is faced with the overwhelming task of clearing out her house for sale. The Grandmother accumulated a lot during the span of her life, and the girl remembers sometimes thinking about the fearsome prospect of cleaning it up.

Each room contains reminders of the nine decades in which her Grandmother lived: suggestions of rations from WWII; pockets of rebellion from the rise of second wave feminism. As every artefact of her Grandmother’s life passes through her hands, we watch the girl reminisce over the woman she knew and the things she clung onto or packed away.

When the girl tackles the basement, she stumbles across something among the sea of expected detritus. Nestled into one corner is a tape recorder. She never knew her Grandmother to use technology. Other than her sewing machine, her Grandmother didn’t even have a landline. Next to it sits a suitcase with a series of tapes – some seriously damaged, and some purposefully so. The suitcase contains 23 slots for tapes, but the girl finds only 5 that work.

As the girl listens to these piecemeal recordings, she finds the voice of a woman she never knew existed. A much younger Grandmother is describing a great mystery of her life, and the girl is getting just as wrapped up in it as the Grandmother was when she sat in the basement and secretly recorded. But can we trust the Grandmother as a reliable narrator? Not to mention becoming suspicious of the girl herself…

The Basement Tapes explores how the things we leave behind outlive us. Part audio work, part live performance, the production brings the past into the present through mixed media. It offers an audience auditory pleasure of immense detail. As the granddaughter hears these tapes for the first time, both audience and solo performer fight not to drown among the waves of secrets and memories in the basement.  

The Basement Tapes sets itself in the nation’s capital and proudly celebrates the Wellington character. While adding to the increasing amount of sophisticated mixed-media work, Tapes also proudly boasts a 50% female identifying production team. 

The Basement Tapes
Chaffers Apartments, 1 Clyde Quay Wharf, Herd Street, Te Aro, Wellington
Friday 10 – Tuesday 14 February
7:00pm – 7:50pm
Concession/Student $15
Fringe Addict $15
Full $20 

New Season

A hit of the 2017 NZ Fringe Festival, TheBasementTapes, offers an audience auditory pleasure of immense detail. Part audio work, part live performance, this work brings the past into the present through mixed media. As the granddaughter hears these tapes for the first time, both audience and solo performer fight not to drown among the waves of secrets and memories in the basement.

Inspired by the popularity of podcasts (think Serial, This American Life, Welcome to Night Vale, and The Witching Hours), TheBasementTapes responds to the immediacy of site specific performance (Clyde Quay Wharf, NZ Fringe Festival 2017) and the imaginative capabilities of audio recording.

The company is thrilled to develop this site-specific work and present it in a new context at BATS Theatre.

Winner: Outstanding Performance – Stella Reid (NZ Fringe Festival 2017)
Nominated: Best Directed Chaos (NZ Fringe Festival 2017)
Winner: Melbourne Fringe Tour Ready Award (NZ Fringe Festival 2017)
Nominated: Best of Fringe (NZ Fringe Festival 2017)

BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage
30 May – 3 June at 8pm
Full Price $22
Concession Price $16
Group 6+ $15


Granddaughter: Stella Reid


Director: Jane Yonge 

Creative Producer: Stella Reid 

Sound Designer: Thomas Lambert 

Spatial Designer: Oliver Morse  

uncredited CAST

voice of the Grandmother: Marjorie McKee
pizza delivery guy: Drew Brown

Theatre , Solo ,

50 mins

A visceral response to compelling reveals

Review by Maraea Rakuraku 31st May 2017

On entering the Propeller Stage at BATS Theatre, the configuration of the space is a little disarming. Immediately the producer in me thinks, that’s quite a lot of paying customers lost. There must be some restructuring going on. Bummer. 

I’m soon distracted by the detritus of items strewn across the stage. What we’re looking at is the flotsam and jetsam of a life lived; boxes of unwanted presents, old records, a mirror, clothing, suitcases, a covetable aqua-coloured retro radio and other items stored for those you-never-know-when-you need-them just-in-case-uselessness.

When the lights fade to black, we hear what is a hilarious pizza phone order. Been there. And so begins what is a stylistic feature of this work: the choice of sound and light to help tell this tale. It is both told by and to a fanny-pack wearing young woman (Stella Reid) who, twerking like nobody’s business, is tasked with cleaning out her dead grandmother’s basement. She oscillates between boredom and fascination, with very comic results. Every now and then she rings her absent and un-answering mother, for moral support.  

Ah, so this is about grief – the love a grandchild has for her dead grandmother. OK. Nice one. And it is. Till it’s not.  

Finding unfinished Target Word puzzles and a fur coat gives us insight into the type of person the grandmother was, as does her musical taste. But it’s the unearthing of a tape recorder and then, eventually, recorded tapes that sets the story off into unexpected places. As we hear the well-spoken, articulate, semi-rounded vowels of an upper middle-class woman, the dead grandmother becomes fully present.

It’s about here, and through some pretty compelling reveals, that the play ratchets up a few more notches, leaving significant wtfs. I look across the audience and note how the body language has changed: we’re all on high alert.

And that’s what this work does. Senses are heightened (to the point of screeching in my case), through sound and light. Maybe it’s a little too obvious in some points – the foreboding music for instance – but it contributes to a layering of sound and story that has you trying to figure out-what exactly is this? What does it all mean? Whose story is this? 

And then to the reveal that quite literally had me saying, out loud, “WTF?” And the clanging of realisation as all the pieces fall into space. And the eerie sound of a tape playing, as what is seen is matched to what is heard. 

Terrifying. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this affected by a work.

Not since Yours Truly by Albert Belz and The Blackening by Paul Rothwell (which both, coincidentally, premiered at BATS), have I felt the need to escape the confines of a theatre, run through Courtney Place and take huge gulps of cold air.  All done after random BATS staff (thank you) and strangers see how I am and hug me.

For me this is what compelling storytelling is about. And theatre is the place to show it.  

Stella Reid holds the work and the space for the unseen. She is personable. I can hardly wait to see how her characterisation deepens and becomes as effective as other aspects of the production. 

The Pizza-guy offers some much-needed relief. He does seem almost prophetic and I guess that both contributes and takes away from the story somewhat.

Because I have had such a visceral response, I do have to clarify a couple of things, post performance, that, when looked at a certain way, leave holes. But you know what? It’s not so huge you can’t allow your imagination to fill those holes and, given the stage of this work, I’m sure it’s not something that hasn’t already been workshopped. 

The Creative Team have done a wonderful job in the unfolding of this tale and I thank them for it. The kind of development that comes with touring and playing to international audiences will only serve to strengthen this work. I wish them the best of luck with that and encourage all of you to see it before it ends on the 3rd June, and leaves our shores for the Melbourne Fringe Festival in September. 


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Eerie, thrilling and totally engrossing

Review by Cassandra Tse 11th Feb 2017

As children, many of us harbour a fear of certain scary places in our homes: the attic, under the bed, the basement – places that are dark, a little claustrophobic, and rarely visited, making them seem like the ideal place for monsters to make their homes. As we grow older, we realise that the basement is nothing more than a practical spot to store broken crockery and out of season clothes; and yet, somehow that mundane usage can make these underground spaces seem even more menacing: the basement is the place we store our deepest secrets.

The team behind The Basement Tapes understand the tension between the mundane and the terrifying. The show begins in pitch darkness with a choked, trembling phone call that turns out to be nothing more than a pizza order – and they use this juxtaposition to create a production that functions startlingly well as both a story of a young woman coping with loss and a chilling ghost tale.

A granddaughter (Stella Reid) begins to sort through her grandmother’s old belongings after her passing. When she finds a cassette tape that seems to contain some kind of recorded confession in her grandmother’s voice, she is both spooked and intrigued. When the recording starts to behave in unsettling and unexpected ways, almost as if it is sentient, the granddaughter is forced to bear witness to a story that bends the fabric of her own reality around her. 

Reid is a captivating, versatile performer, able to have the audiences in stitches with deadpan one-liners and well-pitched physical comedy (including some rather impressive upside-down twerking) – and then bring tears to our eyes a few beats later as she clutches her grandmother’s coat close and sways to ‘Moon River’.

The other actors – Drew Brown as a pizza delivery guy and Marjorie McKee as the mysterious voice of the cassette – are uncredited except as ‘thanks’ in the programme, but both give strong performances. McKee is a particularly effective storyteller whose engaging recorded performance had the entire audience spellbound. It is no easy feat to maintain an audience’s interest while the onstage action mostly pauses and an audio recording plays, but director Jane Yonge has managed to find a way to keep us on the edge of our seats. Reid’s active, receptive listening as the first tape plays is a subtle cue for the entire room to direct our energy towards the cassette player.

Production company Chapel Perilous have found an ideal performance venue in the Urban Dream Brokerage-provided Clyde Quay wharf apartments; the unadorned concrete has the appearance of an actual storage space, and Reid makes use of the visible fusebox when, as they are wont to do in spooky stories, the lights suddenly go out.

Oliver Morse’s set – the “mountainous expanse of Grandma’s stuff”, as the granddaughter memorably puts it – pairs the naturalism of piled cardboard boxes and suitcases with a criss-cross of wooden beams that cast jagged shadows over the back walls. The lighting, by Jason Longstaff, is also unusually versatile for a found space. Thomas Lambert’s atmospheric sound design is a highlight, with vintage radio artefacts and deep, unsettling bass noises building to a cacophonous climax. 

The programme credits Reid, Yonge, Morse and Lambert for “story”, and so I assume the heightened, poetic text is a collaborative effort. Dripping with literary flourish, many of these lines are really quite gorgeous- I wish, however, that rather than finding more and more tenuously ‘realistic’ contexts to allow the mostly solo granddaughter to speak – from making long answer machine messages, to talking to herself, to introducing Brown’s delivery man – the devisors had simply dropped the pretext and let the granddaughter’s inner monologue run free. The consciously poetic language may feel more at home outside of those realist boundaries.

The conclusion of the grandmother’s story is satisfyingly disturbing, as proved by the shocked ripples through the audience as we listen to the final tape. Structurally, I think that one too many revelations are saved for this very last moment, and the ambiguity could be lessened without losing any of the impact by spreading them out slightly – but this is a minor quibble.

Eerie, thrilling and totally engrossing, The Basement Tapes is as good a ghost story as it gets. 


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