Review by James Ong
Deadhouse has developed a strong reputation for highlighting notorious Australian stories, that (for many modern theatregoers) have been lost to time. However, the continued popularity of the project - headed by independent theatre stalwart Stephen Carnell - shows that the hunger for these kind of local true crime stories is certainly not dead. Season 3 of Tales from Sydney Morgue brings The Deadly Run back to into the limelight, with much of the cast and crew from its debut in 2019. Returning to the enchanting Crypt of the St James Church, we’re witness to an enchanting tale of bloodshed, desperation and a descent into madness through the lens of a true-crime noir thriller. As soon as we swing open the creaky doors of the crypt and step through the threshold, we’re transported into a seemingly quaint 1959 for the tale of escaped convicts Kevin Simmonds and Leslie Newcombe. Played by the ferocious Chris Miller and heart-wrenching Jordan Gallegos respectively, our leading men are the subject of the largest manhunt in NSW police history after ousting themselves from the notorious Long Bay Penitentiary. Quaint soon turns to chilling as we see just how far our duo will go to elude capture. The creative team makes phenomenal use of the eerie setting, despite the limitations of performing in a heritage building. Coloured flood lights fill the cavernous tombs and guttural screams bounce and echo through the seemingly endless corridors. We’re transported to a veritable underworld of the Sydney CBD, and the grisly proceedings seem to soak into the sandstone walls. The cast chew this haunted scenery with palpable vigour, truly selling this larger than life story for a whole new generation. In what I suspect was not a directorial choice, the sense of dread and oppression felt by Simmonds and Newcombe was given extra oomph by the recently cruel forces of La Niña. The dread and oppression inferred by the unforgiving rain that trapped us inside this macabre building certainly solidified the noir ambience. A keen interrogation of our culture’s penchant for lionising outlaws and demonising law enforcement, The Deadly Run regularly caught me questioning why I was supporting these escaped convicts. My modern sensibilities definitely sympathise with counterculture icons, yet it’s hard to reconcile this with their less savoury acts. It’s established early on that Simmons and Newcombe are affable and charismatic men of the people, who each turned to crime due to societal circumstance, and their unquenchable thirst for freedom is undeniable - but can an adoring public be so forgiving of murder? Where exactly do our sympathies begin and end? Not to say that I side with the despotic police and law enforcement officials that relish the opportunity to abuse their power against these outlaws, but can a pardon in the court of public opinion be so easily earned? Does a hand covered in blood look so clean when next to one rotten to its core?