“The spirits you carry, they carry you too.”
Adapted from Gabrielle Wang’s illustrated novel, and produced by West Australia’s company Barking Gecko, Ghost in My Suitcase will warm the hearts and tickle the bellies of children and adults alike.
The story follows the young Celeste (Alice Keohavong), a half-Chinese, half-French, and “all Aussie” girl, as she leaves behind her home in Australia, exploring her heritage in China while visiting her Grandmother Por Por (Amanda Ma). Celeste discovers that she comes from a long line of ghost-hunters, including her very own Por Por and her mama—before she passed away. As she travels to the Isle of Clouds to scatter her mama’s ashes, she learns how to embrace her inherited gift. Ting Ting, (Yilin Kong) on the other hand—raised in the care of Por Por—has spent all her life training for the hunt, and grows envious of Celeste, who soon finds outs she’s quite the natural.
The play is layered with a multitude of themes including: identity, isolation, empowerment, family and legacy, which are alluded to in varying scenes of Celeste’s quest. According to Wang, Celeste’s character reflects her own sense of incongruence as a young teen growing up in Australia. Though Wang was the fourth generation of her family born in Australia, she always felt uncomfortable when asked where she was from. Ghost in My Suitcase celebrates those who struggle to find their sense of identity and belonging, rendering how this feeling can sometimes drive one to a journey of self-discovery and empowerment.
But Ghost in My Suitcase is not just an allegory delivering wholesome, moral messages and sage advice to the young (and older) audience members, it is also a fantastic visual spectacle. Designed by Zoe Atkinson, the set—consisting of different-sized boxes used as projector screens—is simple but very effective, especially when combined with smoke, lights and music. Throughout the play the boxes are shifted around to create various objects or settings. The dynamic but smooth-flowing change of scenes and imagery evokes awe, perhaps even mimicking how everything in Celeste’s life is shifting.
Every character in the play is unique and executed perfectly by each actor. Keohavong gives an animated performance as Celeste, and Ma is endearing yet stout, and admirable as her ghost-ass-whooping grandma. I was also particularly impressed with Kong and her nimble, effortless movements when performing martial-art styled dance to fight off ghosts. The female trio of ghost-busters oozed girl-power and captivated the hearts of the audience.
The subject of loss and death is tackled poignantly and with grace, but there is also plenty of humour in amongst the grief, danger and spookiness. Aside from our main trio, directors Ching Ching Ho and Matt Edgerton created some very amusing personas, including a singing vegetable saleslady and a bunch of comical characters on a crowded bus.
Intended for a younger audience, naturally, some of the acting was a little over-the-top. I can’t say I was engrossed for the entire 75 minutes, but I must say I had a lovely time. If you’re looking for a little magic and a lot of uplifting—and especially if you have younger children or siblings—this will definitely do the trick!
Ghost in My Suitcase is showing at the Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA until March 3. Last sessions commence at two and five pm. Buy your tickets here!