$32.74 – $43.29

DEADHOUSE Tales of Sydney Morgue 2018

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The Rocks Discovery Museum

4-8 Kendall Lane

The Rocks, NSW 2000


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DEADHOUSE Tales of Sydney Morgue


Immerse yourself in some classic Australian true crime as you’re guided through an 1850s sandstone building not far from the old Deadhouse’ in Sydney Morgue and Coroner's Court in The Rocks. The first DEADHOUSE season takes you back in time to watch two of these notorious cases play out.

The Leonard Lawson Case by Robert Armstrong plays Tues-Sat 24-28 April (not Anzac Day) & 8-12 May.

The Louisa Collins Case by Gina Schien plays Tues-Sat 1-5 May & 15-19 May.

You will move around the courtyard and all three floors of this historic building and experience scenes depicting the back stories of these famous crimes.

Old Sydney Morgue and Coroner’s Court in lower George Street from 1850s to 1970s was known as the Dead House because bodies were stored there pending autopsy. Here are two tales that we exhumed from that DEADHOUSE.

DINNER DEAL @ Harbour View Hotel 18 Lower Fort Street The Rocks (just 300 metres away). 4 stars on Trip Advisor. Dine before or after your show. Book 02 9252 4111. Simply show your ticket and a portion of every dollar you spend comes back to support DEADHOUSE.

1. The Leonard Lawson Case (1954-72) ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Murderer’ by Robert Armstrong

18 shows - 6pm and 7.30pm Tues 24 April to Sat 28 April (week 1), note no show ANZAC day 25 April, plus Tues 8 to Sat 12 May (week 3) 2018. The Rocks Discovery Museum, 4 Kendall Lane, The Rocks.

Lennie was a modern Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Born in Manly in 1927, where his father was the local butcher, Lennie was a successful comic-book artist and photographer before he descended into a frenzy of violent crime. By the age of 16, due to an embargo on US comic books, Lennie had created the characters of the Lone Avenger and Diana Queen of the Apes and was widely published. By the age of 26 he lead a comfortable life in Manly with wife Betty and three small children. After an interview as a photographer with June Dally Watkins, leading model and deportment school owner, Lennie transported five of her teenage models into bushland in Terry Hills where he sexually assaulted four at gunpoint. Lawson was caught, found guilty and sentenced to hang. But the sentence was commuted to fourteen years, then later reduced to seven for ‘good behaviour’.

The newly released Lawson used his artistic persona to lure new victims. In November 1962, while painting a portrait of 16-year-old Jane Bower, Lawson knocked her unconscious with a sock full of wet sand, sexually assaulted and fatally stabbed her with a hunting knife. The next day he toted a Remington semi-automatic rifle into the Sydney Church of England Girls’ Grammar School (SCEGGS) chapel in Moss Vale, the town where his parents now lived, and held a group of 200 teachers and students hostage. A struggle ensued and one girl was fatally shot and the headmistress injured. Lennie was gaoled for life.

But prison didn't tame Lawson. Ten years into his sentence, as President of the Robin Hood Arts Society, he arranged a dance performance for his fellow inmates. Lawson jumped on stage and threatened one of the dancers with a make shift knife. She was released unharmed, but was so traumatised she later committed suicide.

Lawson spent 47 of his last 48 years in prison. He died in 2003. Several of his religious paintings still hang in Grafton Gaol.

You'll experience the light and dark sides of Lennie Lawson and depictions of this horrendous crimes.

2. The Trials of Louisa Collins (1886-89) ‘A Poison Crown' by Gina Schien

20 shows - 6pm and 7.30pm Tues 1 May to Sat 5 May (week 2) plus Tues 15 to Sat 19 May (week 4) 2018. The Rocks Discovery Museum, 4 Kendall Lane, The Rocks.

Louisa Collins was born near Scone in NSW. In 1865 she married the older, dependable Charles Andrews who moved his growing family to the swampy Sydney suburb of Botany in the early 1880s. He became a wool washer, a job that used chemicals such as arsenic. The family also took in lodgers like the handsome young Michael Collins.

In 1886 when Andrews discovered that Collins and Louisa were lovers he evicted all the boarders. A month later he started getting terrible stomach pains. Louisa briskly organised his will and when Andrews died two days later she went straight into town to claim the money. Two months later she married Michael Collins. But they didn't prosper. In fact, Collins gambled away most of Louisa’s inheritance. In June 1888 he suffered the same mysterious, gut-wrenching symptoms as Andrews.

Suspicion fell on Louisa even before Collins died. When arsenic was found in his body Louisa was arrested and Charles Andrews was exhumed. The tiny particle of arsenic the doctors found was enough. The police charged Louisa with two murders.

The Collins case captured the public imagination. People packed the courthouse to watch the ‘Botany Borgia’ murder trials. Not one trial, but four. Louisa’s eventual death sentence sparked public satisfaction and public outrage.

‘A Poison Crown’ transports you to 19th-century Sydney and brings to life the characters who fought for and against Louisa’s appointment with the gallows.

ADULT THEMES: Depictions of violence and death together with semi-nudity. A nurse will be present to assist any distressed patrons. Recommended for patrons 16+

ACCESS: This venue consists of a back courtyard and three floors, with narrow staircases connecting each. Access may be difficult for some. Email us to check if you're uncertain of your ability to move through this venue.

Production Team

  • Executive Producer - Stephen Carnell
  • Producers – Amanda Asquith, Michael Dengler,
  • Writers – Gina Schien (Louisa Collins), Robert Armstrong (Leonard Lawson),
  • Directors – Michael Block (Leonard Lawson) , Liviu Monsted (Louisa Collins)
  • Assistant Directors – Brinley Meyer, Stephen Carnell
  • Movement Director - Alicia Gonzalez,
  • Production Designer – Bronte Schuftan
  • Assistant Production Designer - Cecelia Strachan
  • Composer - Carmen Lysiak
  • Sound Designer - Tegan Nicholls
  • Lighting Designer - Kyle Stephens
  • Costume – Susan Carveth
  • Make Up – Dale Smoothy
  • Props plus – Lew McDonnell
  • Portrait Artist - Justine Keim
  • Photography - Hayden Brotchie (promotional), Phyllis Photography (crime scenes)
  • Stage Managers – Farlie Goodwin, Skye Murphy
  • Cast: Kyla Ward, Chris Miller, Jacqui Robson, Nathaniel Hole, Wendi Lanham, Rebecca Waters, Alex Smith, Liviu Monsted, Susan Jordan, David Attrill, Steve Donelan.

DINNER DEAL @ Harbour View Hotel 18 Lower Fort Street The Rocks (just 300 metres away). 4 stars on Trip Advisor. Dine before or after your show. Book 02 9252 4111. Simply show your ticket and a portion of every dollar you spend comes back to support DEADHOUSE.

Special thanks to Property NSW, NSW Bar Association and Harbour View Hotel.

Like our Facebook page to see regular updates https://www.facebook.com/deadhouse2018/

Why we are making DEADHOUSE Tales of Sydney Morgue.

Creating a major immersive theatre piece with a connection to a place and Australian history was an objective of mine since I staged the immensely successful season of We Are The Ghosts Of The Future in The Rocks Discovery Museum in 2015.

I’ve trained as a theatre maker, historian, tour-guide and event producer and this is my dream work. Combining innovative immersive theatre with true Australian stories in a historic setting. Theatre with moving stories, powerful acting, a composed soundscape and intense lighting.

My flash of revelation for this production was the connection of place with the old Sydney Morgue, which had been located quite close to the building that is now The Rocks Discovery Museum. For 120 years, scores of notorious cases passed through the Sydney Morgue and Coroners Court. These cases were loaded with high drama and potent content. This is the theatre I wanted to create.

We chose four tales and four writers to dramatise these tales of our city’s gritty past. These four tales will feature in DEADHOUSE Tales of Sydney Morgue Seasons One and Two. Season One features:

The Leonard Lawson Case

Robert Armstrong chose the story of Leonard Lawson Case because of his fascination with the mysterious and malevolent Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde nature of Lennie. A charming artist on the outside, an unbridled monster on the inside. The tension radiated from within Lennie can be both frightening and riveting.

Lennie has contemporary resonance at a moment in time when the #metoo movement has emerged to challenge sexual harassment and violence by men again women.

The seductive manipulation exerted by Lennie over his chosen victims is a warning to be vigilant against men, or women, driven by their inner psychopathy and devoid of empathy or fear. We must fight back again the horror of these predators. Jean Turnbull and her girls at SCEGGS Moss Vale did in 1962 and physically overcame the monster that was Leonard Lawson. He was gaoled for 46 more years. Jean was awarded an MBE for her bravery and care for her charges.

The Louisa Collins Case

Feminist writer Gina Schien was drawn to the tragedy of Louisa Collins, a working-class mother of nine women who may have been innocent of the murder charges against her. Like Lindy Chamberlain, Louisa did not display adequate public bereavement and contrition over the deaths of her two husbands.

In the patriarchal society that was Sydney in 1888, a woman who was not subservient was cursed. Many men feared the Suffragettes as they marched the streets demanding equal rights and the vote. Which they achieved a decade later.

An all-male legal system of judges, barristers and juries tried Louisa four times in the Courthouse in Taylor Square, until she was finally found guilty by an all-male jury. She was sentenced to death and speedily executed in Darlinghurst Gaol. Louisa never had a chance.

Now a long difficult, exciting, creative and collaborative journey is about to end when this production opens in The Rocks Discovery Museum on Tuesday 24 April 2018.

Please immerse yourself and be excited and saddened by these historic tales.

Stephen Carnell - Executive Producer

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The Rocks Discovery Museum

4-8 Kendall Lane

The Rocks, NSW 2000


View Map

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Refunds up to 1 day before event

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