Review: ‘The Haunting’ at Donbank Museum

Review by Matthew Pritchard

The Haunting is a recent production from Dark Stories, a company that offers true crime tours, hosts for murder mystery parties, and immersive theatre experiences. The Haunting is the latter.

I should start off by disclosing the fact that I love horror. I love it. I love scary books, scary movies, scary video games, the whole deal. I’m also a big fan of true crime, dark history, and mysteries of all shapes and sizes. So this kind of thing is very up my alley. But do you have to be a fan of the menacing and the macabre to enjoy The Haunting? Well, no. Because it’s not very scary. But that’s not a bad thing.

The Haunting is more of a spooky experience than it is outright scary. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few moments of surprise thanks to some sudden loud noises, but the whole conceit is that you’re there to help lay a vengeful spirit to rest. So some ghostly mischief is to be expected. But on the whole it has more of a ‘ghost tour’ vibe than a ‘hell house’ one, which adds a broader appeal to it. You can be an absolute chicken about this kind of thing and still have a good time.

There’s a lovely sense of atmosphere as you approach the venue - the Donbank Museum in North Sydney. It’s a tiny little house set back in the shade of a lush garden. A tiny pocket of old Sydney hemmed in on all sides by skyscrapers. It also helped that on the night I saw the show it was wet and gloomy, the perfect weather for an exorcism. Upon arrival, you meet Father William, a priest who needs your help for the night’s work, solving the mystery of a double murder and a disappearance, figuring out who the angry ghost is, and banishing them from the house. Easy enough, right?

The Haunting is essentially a walking tour of a haunted house. Father William leads you to a room, encourages you to look for things the spirits might be channelling through, and then the spirits (the other actors) relive scenes from their lives that are connected to said objects. As you go, you’re encouraged to put the mystery together and figure out just what in the Shirley Jackson is going on.

I won’t say much more about the story because it easily falls into spoiler territory, but if you’re a fan of murder mysteries you’ll be able to pick the twists and turns fairly easily. But it all comes to a head in the end so it’s less about doing the legwork to solve the mystery and more about just letting yourself go along for the ride.

So is it a good ride? The answer to that depends on your own personal taste. There’s a fun sense of melodrama in the scenes with the spirits, however the nature of the staging meant that there was a lot of low light and cramped spaces, so at times it was hard to really see and appreciate what the actors were doing. And that’s part of the main issue I found with The Haunting, the location works well with the content, absolutely, however in terms of staging it feels awkward. As it’s a Museum you get the sense that the actors are working around the space instead of inhabiting it, which is no fault of theirs, it’s just a weird quirk that comes with performing in a museum. In addition to this, the size of our group meant that occasionally there were moments where we needed to move around so as not to get in the way of any of the actors, adding to the feeling of awkwardness.

The other thing to consider is the length. This is a very short show, roughly 30 minutes, so don’t plan on making it your entire night. That being said, a runtime like this can also add to the appeal of a show like this. It’s a fun thing to do with friends as a part of a bigger night out.

It has a real ‘theme park’ vibe to it. It’s the sort of show that would thrive with a lot of other stuff around it, because when you make it the sole entertainment for your night it does feel like it falls a bit short. The ghost effects are fun but they are, at their core, a bit gimmicky, but again, that adds to the feel of a theme park attraction. You KNOW it’s a gimmick, but if you’re willing to let go and just enjoy the ride, the hokeyness is part of the fun.

At the end of the ectoplasmic trail, The Haunting is a slightly niche offering. If you’re the kind of person who loves ghost tours then absolutely, get some friends together and go check it out. But if you’re not into that sort of thing, or you’re after a more hardcore horror experience then maybe give this one a miss.


Image Credit: Matt Pritchard