‘Portraits: A Haunted Mansion’ was intense.
Gathered in a room at the Waterloo Bay Leisure Centre Little Theatre in Wynnum, audiences were greeted to a chilling scene prior to the performance of Observatory’s Theatre’s ‘Portraits: A Haunted Mansion’.
The room was freezing cold, the lights dim, and sitting in a chair in the corner of a small thrust stage was an old man. The audience watched him in anticipation as he sat, listening to the surroundings of his house, making gentle but powerful facial expressions. This man was worried, and even scared – but why?
Ultimately intriguing to begin with, the performance leapt into full swing, and the audience was soon thrown into the unravelling mystery of the old man.
‘Portraits: A Haunted Mansion’ tells the story of Martin Godbold, who has been living in the shadow of his philanthropist father and is about to take his place in the family company. As the mansion creaks and the ghosts of the past reveal themselves, a criminal investigation looms and familiar faces appear on their doorstep. All of which threatens to tumble the family’s now crumbling empire.
Created by Brisbane based multi-sensory producers, Observatory Theatre, ‘Portraits: A Haunted Mansion’ asks us: what are we made of, what do we truly owe the ones who came before us and at what point does tradition overtake our humanity? And the performance gave us plenty of answers in an intense, thought-provoking experience.
Written and directed by Lachlan Driscoll, the script was sharp and held plenty of memorable moments. At times, it was hard to piece together connections and the story, as context was occasionally limited. However, this did not detract from the fun of watching the mystery unfold. Described as a cross between “The Godfather” and “The Haunting of Hill House”, the script allowed both actors and the audience to be submersed into a high stakes situation with twisted family values at the heart of it.
The sensory sound aspect of the production was enjoyable. The use of creepy creaking wooden floors, ghostly whispers, and even piercing, buzzing white noise were used very effectively. Lighting design suited the space incredibly well and aided the set design, which although minimal, was used well in a very tiny stage space. Image projection also provided a spooky glimpse into the memories of the characters.
Due to the size of the thrust stage, space was incredibly limited for actors and at times, blocking and movement was not the best for audience view. With audiences on three sides of the stage, sometimes actors were completely blocking sightlines. This led to important context (i.e props, facial expressions) being missed. At times, this issue was helped by the performance area being extended from stage to exit, allowing actors to follow their scenes quite literally to the front door. This made action engaging and maintained the intensity levels of some scenes.
Performers, Emile Regano and Rebecca Day delivered an excellent portrayal of an estranged brother and sister relationship. Their verbally-fuelled fight scenes were shocking, realistic and quite harrowing; a credit to their skillsets. James Hogan’s portrayal of a powerful father, faced with illness and tumbling into darkness, was powerful and memorable. Robert Wainwright proved to be an asset to the production, playing additional characters that further enriched the narrative.
Observatory Theatre’s ‘Portraits: A Haunted Mansion’ will shock you, and leave you thinking, long after your departure from the mansion.
’Portraits’ performs until Sunday, 21 November 2021 at Waterloo Bay Leisure Centre for Wynnum Fringe. For more information, visit Observatory Theatre’s website.
Disclaimer: Cast / Production Members working on this show also work for Theatre Haus, but rest assured, we always take steps to ensure our reviews maintain their integrity and are free from bias.