Sure to top the list of New Zealand's most exciting exports since Flight of the Conchords, Zanetti Productions have unleashed their beautifully confounding play The Basement Tapes onto Britain's discerning theatregoers.
The play was devised by director Jane Yonge, sound designer Thomas Lambert, spatial designer Oliver Morse and performer Stella Reid, and this synergy of creative perspectives has resulted in an authentic and exciting play about the secrets that people keep boxed in their basements.
Stella Reid's playful depiction of a lost soul finding unexpected meaning through the scattered belongings of a deceased relative was mesmerising, as she evolved from a disembodied voice on a darkened, box-filled stage, into a whirling dervish of finely choreographed physical chaos. Reid explained to me after the show that the initial inspiration for the project was taken from her own discovery of her grandmother's tape recordings, and though the story takes its own fictional path, the authenticity of the project's genesis breathes into every aspect of her performance.
Lighting designer Jason Longstaff has made ingenious use of shadows and props to augment the play's increasingly bizarre narrative, while sound designer, Thomas Lambert, has used pinpoint accuracy to blend from recorded voices into cacophonous soundscapes. Impressive as the technical elements of the show may have been, they never detracted from the narrative. The entire team's use of sound, lighting and set design was so seamlessly interwoven into the play's fabric that the central character's emotional reactions to a series of scattered, unboxed clues seemed both heartfelt and dynamic.
Perhaps the play's main flaw is that it left us yearning for more clarity, and yet this was also its greatest strength. It left us to untangle the beautiful knot it had tied. The play was just under an hour, but the ideas and imagery that Reid, Yonge, and company have found within a handful of well-placed boxes would fill at least a dozen longer plays.