By Kipp Lee
Deadhouse is an immersive theatre experience with a focus on true crime, but is not as morbid as the name suggests (with only one ‘dead’ body I felt a little misled, but not disappointed). You meet in the courtyard of St James’ Anglican Church, King St. The church is very beautiful and haunting, especially given its convict heritage. The show begins as the audience congregates outside the two heavy wooden doors of the crypt with two girls bursting through the crowd to “exercise their democratic rights”!
This time at Deadhouse its the story of Simmonds and Newcombe: The Deadly Run. It transports you back to 1959 where the story unfolds of two escaped criminals have captured the hearts of the nation. Simmonds and Newcombe are classic Australian Underdogs, everyday heroes, two mates on the lamb in the biggest manhunt NSW has ever seen.
We see the effect it has on the idyllic anti-authoritarian youth in Grace (Wendi Lanham), who carries a literal soapbox around to make her impassioned pleas for mercy for “Simmo! Simmo! Simmo!” and we see the contempt for the pair in the police and more conservative members of society feel for the “cop killers”. All before we get a chance to meet them.
Jumping out from their hiding place in a darkened room, they make their way to freedom and into the audience’s hearts. Chris Miller (Simmonds) and Jordan Gallegos (Newcombe) introduce us to two Aussie blokes with a sense of humor and easy smiles - however they don’t last long. Each actor’s commitment and depth they give to the role is astounding, which makes their fate all the more devastating.
We are taken through the story and through the crypt by Detective Merchant (Kyla Ward) who is equally personable as she is inscrutable. She guides us through the long vaulted corridor which is masterfully and simply transformed into a graveyard, prison, courtroom and more with the use of basic props, scene dressing and clever lighting.
The technical elements of the show have to be commended. Mehran Mortezaei’s design is incredibly effective in the limited space and the crew, darting around the space switching lights and props out with remarkable timing are impressive. The red backlight for Detective Sergeant Kelly’s entrance was particularly striking.
Deadhouse is extraordinarily well cast, with not a single weak link in the line up. Chris Miller’s exquisite portrayal of Simmond’s descent into desperation is heartbreaking and Gallegos’ fresh-faced Newcombe's tortured expression still haunts me.
The ensemble, who each play an array of characters, deliver each character with nuance and depth that many bit-parts lack. The cast is also to be commended for their stamina, doing two shows a night with the level they are performing at is more than impressive.
Despite the heavy content, the show has moments of lightness and humor, giving us context for the period as well as empathy for the characters.
For those unsure about immersive theatre, let me reassure you, while you do have to physically follow the story there are ample opportunities to sit (and for those of us who are vertically challenged, to come to the front) and the support staff are very kind and accommodating. Whilst Deadhouse may not tell very comfortable stories, it does make sure that its audience is comfortable as possible.
Deadhouse Season 2 runs Mon-Sat November 20-30, 6pm and 7.30pm.
Image Credit: Phillis Wong
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.