A vibrant, immersive journey through the halls of St. James Church, Simmonds and Newcombe: The Deadly Run takes us back to 1959 as we follow the controversial series of events following Kevin Simmonds (Chris Miller) and Les Newcombe’s (Jordan Gallegos) escape from Long Bay Penitentiary. Guided by an eccentric yet earnest detective (Kyla Ward), the audience is asked to follow with torches all the characters through the church to act as a witness, then later deciding jury to the case. The events reenacted are bone-rattling, wrought with violence and coarse language, making it an enveloping encounter of what it was like to be in the thick of the criminal justice scene in Sydney at the time.
The space explored is spellbinding. What a wonderful idea it is to activate the corridors of the historic church with performance! Sound swims down the halls as voices that echo. Aching drones of wind and water sound effects are enhanced and feel ominous buried under stories of thick cold concrete. Lighting and shadows against the textured walls and high arches make for a moody and captivating experience. It’s a fabulously alive space for the performance and is a perfect host for the telling of this tale.
Performers are stern with the audience, giving us orders as if we are on the payroll to solve the case. A guard watches over at all times and shouts as we enter the next corridor “Sit down the shut up!”. We’re given explicit tasks throughout and are finally asked to vote on how the show will end. This audience-performer relationship was highly engaging. Where in a traditional environment I might watch passively and try to empathize, I felt personally the dominance of authoritative figures and was able to express agency within the world. The affair is deeply transporting and activating.
All through this, we are challenged with questions about freedom, whether it’s right or even possible to live by one’s own rules and to what extent. The characters driving the story all offer a different perspective. Gallegos as Newcombe was sympathetic, hopeful and sincere, while his counterpart Simmons, played by Miller was all kinds of outrageous, violent and yet admirably driven by the plight for freedom and self-sufficiency. Other characters come and go, offering insight and Intel on the progressing case. Mary-Anne Halpin as Sister Regence and Grace’s Mother is a particularly delightful performer. Amongst this though is a feeling that the cast could find more connection to each other, as their unique styles at times can be at different energies.
Overall, Simmonds & Newcombe: The Deadly Run was highly enjoyed and will be one to remember for its unique play with space and the way that I, as an audience, was able to step inside the world. Playing until November 30th at St. James Church, a ticket to this show is highly recommended for a refreshing experience of theatre.
Written and Directed by Liviu Monsted
Gregory J Wilken