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Zoe Coombs Marr and Mish Gregor, Crime Site Zoe Coombs Marr and Mish Gregor, Crime Site
photo Heidrun Löhr
Murder in the late 19th century criminal “baby farming” industry is the subject of Crime Site, an ambitious collaboration between PACT Youth Theatre and Theatre Kantanka. The show opens at Erskineville Public School with a re-enactment of the school’s opening and a speech declaring the new school “a salvation from crime.” Newspaper sellers announce the discovery of the babies’ bodies and we’re led to a nearby park where metal rods pierce the earth in the search for more victims. In the PACT Theatre the trial of the accused commences, a grotesque set of melodramatic proceedings replete with Victorian prejudices embodied in the roping of the mothers of the dead into an hysterical bundle of grief and guilt. While the killers soon stand condemned (he to hanging, she to life imprisonment, their daughters freed), the women who have handed over their babies to crooked carers are not understood as victims of a cruel society so much as complicit in the murders. The narrowness of this vision is then celebrated in the theatre courtyard as a massive carnival of death, entirely focused on the thrill of the hanging and the erotics of murder. Theatre Kantanka’s facility with spectacle makes this hubbub of sideshows, body organ displays and gross memorabilia a thrilling nightmare as you’re swept about by the curious crowd.

Crime Site is engrossing, if at times demanding for its young but often fine performers. The opening in the schoolyard and the park lacks focus and pace (although there’s a fine speech from Georgie Reid). The courtroom drama is full of clever theatrical devices and nicely crafted movement but the volume of emoting is wearing and the legal figures are characterless if forceful. The daughters of the killers, however, are fascinatingly played by Zoe Coombs Marr and Mish Grigor, all nerves and naivety. Based on the crimes and trial of John and Sarah Makin in the 1890s, Crime Site is not only an intriguing slice of social history, but also provides an entirely relevant analogy to our own times: child abuse is again a prominent issue and capital punishment is back on the agenda, while the Coalition of the Willing’s indiscriminate carnival of vengefulness threatens the lives of many. KG

PACT Youth Theatre, Theatre Kantanka, Crime Site, co-directors Carlos Gomes, Regina Heilmann, Chris Murphy, designer Kate Shanahan, sound Felicity Fox; Dec 3-14, 2003

RealTime issue #59 Feb-March 2004 pg. 40

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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