Last year, Blancmange Productions Executive Producer Stephen Carnell thrilled Sydneysiders with his chilling production ‘DEADHOUSE: Tales Of Sydney Morgue’, an immersive theatre experience combining some of Sydney’s most notorious true crime stories with live theatre.
Now, Carnell has resurrected the hit production with a brand-new story and a new venue – the Crypt at St. James’ Church – which is sure to give audiences goosebumps for all the right reasons.
This year’s ‘DEADHOUSE: Tales Of Sydney Morgue’ features two chilling stories.
‘A Poison Crown’ brings to life the characters who fought for and against convicted murderer Louisa Collins who was tried four times for the deaths of her two husbands and was the last woman hanged in New South Wales after an all-male jury found her guilty. The second story, ‘Simmonds & Newcombe: The Deadly Run’ follows the titular characters who escaped from Sydney’s notorious Long Bay Penitentiary, which consequently lead to the biggest police hunt in New South Wales history involving more than 500 police officers.
Stephen Carnell, who also works as a tour guide, says he was inspired to bring these grim stories to life when he stumbled upon the Sydney Morgue.
“I was working on a previous show in The Rocks and a block away I noticed the building that was the Sydney Morgue for 120 years, between 1850 and 1970. So I thought there must be hundreds of stories and I love history and I love true crime, so that’s where the light came on.
“So I researched a few, I came up with interesting stories in different periods and began to pitch to writers I know.”
While both stories are set in the past, Carnell says they are still ‘contemporary’.
“The Louisa Collins story is quite famous, she was the last woman hung in New South Wales and her story brought forward a whole movement to be more compassionate. There were still hangings until the late '40s but then they abolished capital punishment,” Carnell explains. “The reason the writers and directors were drawn to it is because it’s about the rights of women and how they’re suffering and how they’re not given justice and it continues. All the underlying themes of this story are contemporary. We felt it’s a story for now.”
Carnell describes the 'Simmonds & Newcombe' piece as a “buddy comedy but with murder”.
The story follows the two escapees as they encounter obstacle after obstacle from breaking out of prison through a draining pipe, to sleeping in the cemetery, to stealing a car from a nun, and killing a guard with a cricket stump.
“I guess with that one there’s the underlying theme of hope and of survival and getting yourself into a position where you can live a better life.”
While the stories in 'DEADHOUSE: Tales Of Sydney Morgue' are somewhat grim and sombre, Carnell hopes audiences will appreciate an unfamiliar theatrical adventure.
“We hope they will enjoy a very different experience of theatre. This is different to what most have experienced in the theatre, even those who don’t normally go to the theatre will find this interesting. We want people to enjoy the venue because it’s amazing and come away with those things in the story that we think are important, and we want them to see it as a collaborative process.”