Ghosts in the Scheme

Ghosts of the Scheme. Canberra Theatre. Written and directed by Scott Rankin, starring Lex Marinos, Bruce Myles, Anne Grigg with music by Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen. Review by Stephen Harrison.


1) A large scale systematic plan or arrangement for attaining some particular object or putting an idea into effect.

2) Make plans, especially in a devious way or with intent to do something illegal or wrong.

Cooma has always been seen, for some people of Canberra, as a weird and very cold place- it’s isolation making it even weirder and colder. You just know something strange is happening in some houses there. In some ways this is quite close to how it is, but within that there are the people that call Cooma home, who are as varied and mixed and strange and nice and nasty and cranky and problematic and loving and smiling as humans can be.

Ghosts of the Scheme is set historically, the backdrop being the Snowy Mountains Scheme of the 50’s and 60’s, and personally, focussing on three Cooma residents who happen to be friends and lovers: a kind of triangle of entanglement.

It is a play essentially about Memory, of time passing- the set enhancing this beautifully: veils and overlays of screens with dappled films projected in the fore and backgrounds. A few Beckett-like snow gums and multi-levelled walkways further enriching the interweaving of the personal and historical. Cooma is one of those places that tragedy seems to go hand-in-hand with everyday life. Or so it seems- It’s also a place where things happen slowly, and that passage of time, of memories and half remembered loves and lovers and car crashes and absent fathers and addictions and selfish mothers and all the things that make up our lives, are all here, in Ghosts in the Scheme.

Theatre is an art form that uses all the arts in great combination, from writing to sculpture and installation, light and shade, acting etc. But it is the sound of this play that really sets the ongoing mournful mood of the work: the disconnected echoing soundscape of voices and effects, coupled with the brilliant melancholic songs and music. Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen are maestros; these guys are seasoned performers, each one comfortable, confident, having a profound affinity with their instruments. They are a joy to listen to anytime, and the theatre experience is tailor-made for their skills.

Scott Rankin has skilfully combined visuals and sound with fantastic performances from the cast: it can’t have been easy to distil what was close to two years of research into a coherent and enjoyable experience for viewers. Sometimes research and story-gathering can shift the original intentions of what the production was meant to be, and transform it into another beast altogether. Harnessing this beast and asserting a theatre ascetic is the Directors task, and Ghosts in the Scheme fully delivers. The actors do a fine job, combining humour and playfulness with the tragedies and miscommunications that befall them. This is powerful, because all the things that happen to these three characters have happened to us, and the play becomes a Humanist play.

BighART theatre does a great job in bringing art closer to ordinary people. They work in communities to talk and engage, to listen, learn and adapt the stories that come from these people and transform the narratives into powerful theatre works. I think grass-roots projects such as these are wonderful, and should be awarded ongoing funding- they really can transform lives. Especially in weird and cold places like Cooma.

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