Another major international arts festival is about to grace our stages across Melbourne this October. The Melbourne International Arts Festival is a celebration of dance, theatre, music, visual arts, multimedia and outdoor events from renowned and upcoming Australian and international companies and artists to Melbourne. It was first established in 1986 and has been rising in regard and pedigree ever since.
Matt Edgerton, and his Barking Gecko Theatre, are very proud to be bringing the world premiere stage version of A Ghost in My Suitcase to the festival next month. The work is adapted from Gabrielle Wang’s thrilling book of the same name, winner of the 2009 Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Novel.
Edgerton admits that as a child he loved reading fantasy books and so he was immediately drawn into Gabrielle Wang’s novel A Ghost In My Suitcase. “The work is an epic adventure, set in an ancient Chinese water town, which follows Celeste, a 12 year old Australian girl with Chinese and French heritage,” he explains. “The novel is all about ghost hunting, but also has a gentleness and curiosity as it traces the journey of this young girl processing the loss of her mother. I love art that opens up a new world for me and I was certainly intrigued by the setting and by the cultural investigations at the centre of the work. Playwright Vanessa Bates has created a fast-paced adaptation which preserves the heart of the novel but gives the story a radically different form. I hope the audience are given a window into a surprising world quite unlike their own and through this reflect on their own sense of family and identity.”
A story wherein Chinese culture meets the supernatural, the work, says Edgerton, explores a number of powerful themes – of memory, loss and longing – as Celeste deals with her mother’s death and reconnects with her cultural heritage. “There is also a strong thematic investigation of finding your potential and the value of reconnecting with your cultural identity. I find the story incredibly life-affirming and uplifting. Playwright Vanessa Bates has done a masterful job of weaving these big ideas into a narrative that is full of playfulness and joy, that is emotionally charged but never earnest.”
WAAPA graduate and Artistic Director of Western Australia’s award-winning Children’s Theatre Company, Barking Gecko Theatre , Edgerton states that as an artist he loves ambiguity, irresolution and mystery. “I think that’s why theatre as a form works for me – theatre is great at asking questions but usually quite unsatisfying when it tries to answer them,” he says. “Some of the questions that this work explores are resonant for many of us – How do you make sense of your mixed cultural heritage? How do you process grief?”
This is truly a family show encompassing intrigue, ghosts, imagination and an innovative and clever little girl who is thrust into a family secret which is, on the one hand, truly exciting, but on the other, calls for Celeste to keep her wits about her – that her family are ghost hunters and the power is passed down through the female. It also touches on some very strong and poignant emotions and changes which Celeste must deal with.
Bringing it all to life, Edgerton explains the mechanics behind the production: “To capture this incredible story, we have chosen a visually spectacular form of storytelling – a kind of actor-centric “poor theatre” combined with projection mapping of lavish Chinese imagery onto moving surfaces. I think Children’s theatre deserves the same meticulous attention to detail, production values and development time as work for adults. We’ve been developing this show for almost three years and each creative element has been selected with great care and precision.”
Edgerton believes this to be a great festival show because it is a surprising story realized with a visually spectacular and imaginative design, but is nonetheless a crowd-pleasing family work. “We have tried to match the heights of imagination in Vanessa’s script with storytelling style that shifts location and mood effortlessly,” he says. “We developed the work in Perth and our trial audiences left with big smiles on their faces and genuine excitement about both the story and the theatrical invention of Zoe Atkinson’s design.”
A wonderful blend of identity and the paranormal, A Ghost in My Suitcase should not be missed.
Says Edgerton: “This is a true family work: a story that parents and children can watch together and enjoy in equal measure. This is theatre for children that doesn’t talk down to them and will give them lots to think and talk about for weeks afterwards.”
October 18 – 21