The exceptional design of Basement Tapes creates a truly beautiful and scary world. Thomas Lambert’s sound design fits perfectly with action at every turn, even pushing that action at times. One moment it accompanies Reid’s dance breakouts, the next it echoes the words and details on the cassette tapes. The sound design helps build intensity later in the show, and while I will resist going into details, it truly amplifies the chaos and thrill. Jason Longstaff’s lighting design accentuates the atmosphere the sound creates, and vice versa. The two pair impeccably, almost as though each lighting state pairs with its own sound cue. There is an ever-so-subtle fade as we fall deeper into grandma’s recordings, this makes the stage glow dimly, but makes the audience feel even more nervous than Reid; it is almost supernatural. Oliver Morse’s design for the space incorporates cassette tape film in sculptures that lead the audience to their seats. There are many objects on the stage, from ironing boards and fur coats to rubbish bags and old radios, making it truly feel like grandma’s crowded basement, but it doesn’t feel cluttered or like there is too much. Every part of the design for Basement Tapes feels like it has a well thought-out purpose.
Reid keeps her audience glued as she uncovers more and more information. The audience is a voyeur, never addressed but always present in the shadows – a decision that amplifies the suspense and uncertainty of watching Reid’s performance. We buy in to the uncertainty: Reid is never ahead of us in learning details, and we are never ahead of her. There is something thrilling about the discoveries when both the performer and her audience are experiencing them simultaneously.
The rhythm of the show varies throughout, creating a tumultuous journey of speed ups and slow downs. There are moments of hilarity and moments of dread, but never does it feel jarring, nor does it feel uneven. The pace only drops when Reid’s pizza delivery arrives, and while the exchange is comic, it sits for maybe a moment too long. This exchange does, however, provide the audience an opportunity to consider the young woman’s state of mind, or at least that something is not quite right about the cassette tapes. It is as if these tapes, and the knowledge that comes with them, are meant only for her eyes and ours. As Reid’s only physical interaction with another person, it creates a contrast between how the audience sees the character while she is alone or speaking on the phone, and this contrast provides another layer to Reid’s character.
The Basement Tapes is not a show to miss. The show gives its audience a lot to think about, but rather than coming away unsatisfied with countless question, the mystery and ambiguity leaves me engrossed in the story, pondering possibilities. The show stays in your thoughts for days following: a fantastic, unmissable, focused piece of theatre. The Basement Tapes closes February 14, so check out the Fringe website for booking details while you can.