#SydFest Review: A Ghost In My Suitcase

The spirits you carry, they carry you too.

Travel from contemporary Australia to cosmopolitan Shanghai and to the misty byways of rural China in th enchanting family mystery “A Ghost in My Suitcase.”

The stage production creates a world of magic and adventure, tackling the themes of grief, legacy, identity, connection, and family – not only the family you’re born into but also the people you meet along the way that end up being apart of your family.  

Celeste, our 12-year-old heroin in pigtails and a backpack, straddles worlds in A Ghost in My Suitcase.” Half-Chinese, half-French (“and all Australian,” she adds), Celeste sits at the intersection of the realms of the living and the dead. 

While in China to visit her grandmother Por Por (Amanda Ma), and scatter her mother’s ashes in her homeland, Celeste (Alice Keohavong) learns that she comes from a long line of ghost hunters. This, she learns, is considered to be a gift. It’s not necessarily a gift Celeste might want – not like Por Por’s charge, Ting Ting (Yilin Kong) who has been training for the hunt her whole life – but it is Celeste’s birthright, and soon she must harness this special power to keep her family safe.

“A Ghost in my Suitcase” was a very emotional viewing experience for this fellow Asian-Australian who had recently lost her parent.

Having read the book prior to attending the performance, I knew the concept behind the tale, but it was the performance of Celeste’s bravery from Keohavong coming alive along with the humour of Por Por’s guidance to ghost-hunting that made the story really come alive on the stage.

All the actors performed admirably and there are martial arts and an eerie song as part of the ghost-fighting repertoire. It’s a cohesive mix of realism and fantasy. Particularly impressive are the lighting effects when the disgruntled ghosts are felt and heard. There’s just the right amount of spookiness to enthral but not scare a young audience.

The set is simple but effectively organised: there are blocks of varying sizes upon which video images are portrayed. So, elaborate and ancient building facades as well as busy canal scenes, are shown as the characters move from scene to scene. 

With puppetry, projections, fight choreography and a set (by Zoë Atkinson) in continuous motion like waves, the production was absolutely lively. Matthew Marshall’s lights added depth and drama – when a ghost is vanquished, we’re bathed in light so bright and hopeful we can’t see – and Rachael Dease’s sound design guided us through some potentially scary moments with a helping hand.

Whilst the story itself is predominantly intended for children (with many in the audience that evening), the poetic adaptation also appealed to many adults.

All the actors performed admirably and there are martial arts and an eerie song as part of the ghost-fighting repertoire. It’s a cohesive mix of realism and fantasy. There’s just the right amount of spookiness to enthral but not scare a young audience.

Asian representation is having a moment: Netflix’s hit movie, “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” saw lead actress, Vietnam-born Lana Candor, capture audiences, whilst Hollywood film “Crazy Rich Asians” received a majority of media attention when it featured a multinational all-Asian cast exploring the dynamic between Asians and Asian-Americans. 

At this year’s Sydney’s Festival, “A Ghost in my Suitcase” was adapted for the stage by playwright Vanessa Bates from Gabrielle Wang’s award-winning novel. Featuring a female-led ensemble of Asian-Australian actors, this visually spectacular and heart-warming adventure engaged audiences across cultures and generations. 

Representation was so prevalent in this production and it made me so happy and proud to see all Asian-Australians in the cast of the live performance for “A Ghost In My Suitcase.” 

A Ghost in my Suitcase
Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House
9 January 2019
All photos captured by Prudence Upton.