Chris Miller as Kevin Simmonds and Jordan Gallegos as Les Newcombe Photo by Phillis Wong.
Deadhouse. Tales of Sydney Morgue. Simmonds and Newcombe: The Deadly Run
By Liviu Monsted
Directed by Liviu Monsted
An Actors Anonymous & Blancmange Production
The Crypt, St James’ Church
173 King Street
Season: 20-30 November. Duration: 60 minutes (No interval). Bookings: www.eventbrite.com.au
For an intriguing, macabre but fascinating theatrical experience, I thoroughly recommend getting to Deadhouse. Tales of Sydney Morgue, now on at The Crypt, St James’ Church (opposite Hyde Park).
Writer and Director of the current show called Simmonds & Newcombe: The Deadly Run, Liviu Monsted, tells the compelling true story about the escape, chase, capture and subsequent trial of these two prisoners in 1959. It’s a sad tale mixed with excitement and a warped public admiration for the two as they confound the Police hunt.
Kevin Simmonds and Les Newcombe manage to escape Long Bay Gaol through a ventilation shaft in the prison chapel. Kevin, with a history of armed robbery, break and enters and car stealing is quite charismatic and has enticed Les to join him in the breakout.
The seriousness escalates after they kill a warden at Emu Plains Prison Farm and flee with his gun. This sets off the largest police manhunt in NSW.
Despite the rights or wrongs of the actual escape, the play highlights the level of brutality that existed within the police and prison system at the time. In fact, this whole episode played a pivotal role in prison reform in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It helps explain why recidivism is still a major issue in the penal system today.
An interesting dynamic of this production is how it is staged. The Crypt acts as a series of miniature theatres, whereby both the ensemble and the audience move as each Act is performed. The show begins outside The Crypt, then we move to the anteroom, hallway and two side rooms. Fortunately, we are provided with torches to help us navigate around. It’s an eerie venue but perfect for the subject matter being covered. The layout of The Crypt enables characters to emerge unexpectedly from the dark, helping to create a strange atmosphere.
Notable performers were Chris Miller as Kevin Simmonds, Jordan Gallegos as Les Newcombe and Gregory J Wilken as Detective Kelly. Kyla Ward as Detective Merchant also acted as our Guide and Narrator. Wendi Lanham, Mary-Anne Halpin, Steve Donelan, Christopher Daw, Joanna Eve and Steven Maresca made up the remaining cast.
Costumes, lighting, sound and staging added brilliantly to the bizarre nature of the performance. For a more spine-chilling experience, try and attend a later show, once darkness has descended on the city.
This is Season 2 of the Tales of Sydney Morgue Collection. Described by Executive Producer Stephen Carnell as “immersive theatre”, this concept of small intimate audiences in Sydney’s hidden colonial buildings is an idea which deserves success. Let’s hope more of these tales are in the pipeline!