Spirit House review

Award-winning writer and director Carl Bland has done it again! His surreal mystery play Spirit House is a must see at the Auckland Fringe. It presents an abundance of theatrical delights as New Zealand actor and screen legend Ian Mune returns to the stage. There is a mesmerising display of puppetry and special effects, exquisite live music from a collection of traditional Thai instruments and who could forget the haunting presence of a masked Siamese cat.

This captivating piece tells the tale of two different artists who occupy the same studio in Nong Khai; one in 1932 and the other in present day. Steven, played by Westside actor Tim Carlsen, is a delight to watch as he takes on the role of a modern-day artist, who after receiving a bad review for his latest work becomes irrational as he fears he can’t live up to his artistic expectations. Award-winning actor Ian Mune brings the stage to life playing profound painter Charles Dixon, who has been painting the same image for the last twenty years: a faceless woman painted from behind with a cat following. His works capture a moment frozen in time and he longs to find the face of his paintings before he passes.

Both men are visited by the same woman, But the question that looms throughout the piece is who is she? Mia Blake plays the seductive yet translucent Sonia, a muse and provocateur for both men. She is the glue that brings the two contrasting worlds together. Blake’s remarkable performance captures you from the very start, shifting modes and tones, caught between the two men. Her presence in both worlds will force both men to come to terms with what they’ve been trying so hard to forget. Blake deals exquisitely well with the abrupt time switches and the magical appearances and disappearances, and is a perfect channel between us and the world of the room in Thailand.

And then there is Claude the cat, the furry feline who takes on the human form. Played by the incredible Min Kim, with his lack of speech but mesmerising actions, he is the real master of the performance. Main Reactor’s work crafting an oversized feline head is just magnificent, combined with Kim’s alert physicality, makes for a convincing presence.

The beautiful set designed by John Verryt and Rachel Marlow’s subtle but effective lighting move us seamlessly through time. There are many secrets embedded in the set, leaving us captivated by how it all fits together. John Gibson’s sound design combined with the incredible live music played on stage by Pongsaporn Upani, using traditional Thai instruments and vocal effects brought the entire piece to life, transporting the audience to a different world.

Spirit House is a time-bending story that boldly skips across the boundary separating the seen and the unseen. It’s a vivid and wild yet beautifully tender piece that walks the line between fantasy and reality, delving into the past and reaching into the future.

Spirit House plays at Auckland’s Herald Theatre until 5 March.

Reviewed by Lauren Sanderson.