Cemeteries are traditionally a place of mourning but with over 150,000 souls in its care, Australia’s oldest operating cemetery has a lot of stories to tell.
The spirited Friday night guided tours of the West Terrace Cemetery bring history to life as punters are taken amongst the graves by lamplight, where they meet people from the past and hear audio recreations of moments in history.
This is no ordinary single-voice tour. Theatrical in nature, the well-planned hour engages actors in period costumes, and some surprisingly high tech arrangements to amuse, bemuse, scare and entertain.
For the annual About Time History Festival running all this month, the Cemetery has engaged a larger pool of their rotating actors to add more punch to the proceedings, but the tours run for most of the year, weather permitting.
Guided by the marvellously dark Petah Birrell, her knowledge is impressive; her delivery is delicious; and her cries of “Come along now!” snap the tour into action and keep it moving along at a brisk pace. Flat walking shoes are a definite requirement.
In a black cape and hood, she’s a lovable fiend who whisks the group around the enormous grounds, zipping along pathways, detouring between graves, sometimes talking, sometimes making way for the macabre surprises that await.
We meet actor Brian Godfrey as the comical John Monck, the cemetery’s first Sexton; Tarnya McIntosh as 21 year old Florence Horton, murdered by her abusive husband; Allison Scharber as Zora Kusic, an immigrant, prostitute, and victim of a serial killer; James Whitrow as both a bloodied, deranged killer and a 1940s detective pondering the still-unsolved mystery of the “Unknown Man”; and Steve Parker as James Slape, whose rages led to manslaughter.
The actors are all first-rate in their depictions, but highlight only a few of the twisted tales told through the evening. From lion tamers to composers; a hangman to a floating woman… each tragedy titillates in its own dark way.
The West Terrace Cemetery offers several free self-guided tours during the day, with maps available from the front office. Ticketed, guided day and night tours run weekly but if you’re dying to get in, note that bookings are required.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
West Terrace Cemetery Night Tours
When: Friday nights at 6.30pm or 8pm, weather permitting
Where: West Terrace Cemetery, 161 West Terrace, Adelaide
Tickets: $15-$25; not suitable for children under 12 years old
Bookings: Phone (08) 8139 7400 or email [email protected]
Disclaimer: Performer Brian Godfrey is the Glam Adelaide Arts Editor.