A girl is clearing out her grandmother’s basement following her death. The basement is a messy, unkept space, full of eerie mysteries and unexpected surprises. Among the various paint pots and stacks of cardboard boxes, the girl (played by Stella Reid) comes across an old tape recorder. She looks through a selection of tapes, but nothing of much interest presents itself. Until she finds one more tape in the pocket of her grandmother’s coat, which, upon playing, reveals itself to be a voice recording of her grandmother telling the story of what happened that night when she went for an evening drive. As Reid tries to piece together the puzzle of what exactly happened that night, the room becomes increasingly eerie, and a sentimental walk down memory lane slowly twists itself into an absurd thrilling ghost story.
The Basement Tapes is full of surprises, and this kicks off right from the start as Reid bursts out of a large cardboard box, twerking upside down against the wall. This leads into an opening dance and is followed with an investigation of the various items in the basement; she flicks through a large cookbook and humours herself (and us) by finishing off her sentences with the names of random dishes. The intricacy of her investigation draws us in and connects us deeply with this character. We laugh with her as she makes a bit of a fool of herself, and it’s this very trust that the production gains from its audience that so cleverly tricks us into thinking we’re safe when in fact we’re very far from it.
The story starts to drag a bit. A pizza guy appears from nowhere, which seems a bit odd. We’re just about holding on, and then things get dark and weird, and it’s this very turn in the tone of the show that keeps us gripped to our seats.
Oliver Morse’s set design is hidden with little gems, such as the air vent that Reid unexpectedly opens when trying to find the fuse box. We’re given our first moment of thrill, and it’s supplemented with humour from the text. Thomas Lambert’s sound design is a crucial character in itself within this play; the sound that creeps out of the tape recorder and later penetrates the walls of the underground basement. Perhaps the most effective moment of sound is its absence, as Reid turns off the recorder so all we hear is the static from another; as this is then turned off and we’re left with nothing but silence, as if to say: something bad is going to happen.
Of course, it is Reid’s performance that keeps us compelled. It’s like we’re in the basement with her; and we sort of are, even though I guess we’re not. But in watching her, it’s like she can sense us; the fourth wall is there, but this doesn’t stop her from entertaining whatever or whoever may be lurking behind the walls of the Summerhall Women’s Locker Room.
The Basement Tapes is playing at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Fringe until 26 August 2018
Photo: Andi Crown