THE DUNSTAN CREEK HAUNTING

The Forge at The Court Theatre, Christchurch

16/04/2016 - 07/05/2016

Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

05/04/2017 - 08/04/2017

Repertory House, 167 Esk Street, Invercargill

12/05/2017 - 13/05/2017

Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

24/10/2017 - 31/10/2017

Suter Theatre, Nelson

11/10/2018 - 12/10/2018

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

09/07/2019 - 20/07/2019

Southland Festival of the Arts 2017

Nelson Arts Festival 2018

Production Details



Known as ‘THE DUNSTAN CREEK SEANCE’ for the original Court Theatre season
then ‘THE DUNSTAN CREEK HAUNTING’ for the 2017 season at FORTUNE THEATRE, DUNEDIN, 5-8 April 2017.

To book: https://nz.patronbase.com/_Fortune/Productions/DUNS/Performances

FORGE INTO THE SUPERNATURAL  

The Forge at The Court is about to host “the scariest show it’s ever seen” with the world première of The Dunstan Creek Séance, according to Associate Director of The Court Theatre, Dan Pengelly.

Written by, and featuring, Lizzie Tollemache and David Ladderman, this new work blends real-life accounts and early New Zealand ghost stories to create a tense theatrical thriller that will make audiences “question every shadow and sleep with the lights on”, in the vein of supernatural chillers such as The Woman in Black.

The Dunstan Creek Séance will also incorporate Tollemache and Ladderman’s skills in magic and illusion to create a truly immersive and terrifying experience. 

Tollemache and Ladderman were honeymooning around Central Otago in 2015, and were taken by how many stories there were of hauntings and how matter-of-fact the locals were about their supernatural experiences. Intrigued by the fact that many of these accounts hadn’t been widely heard before, Tollemache and Ladderman began researching Central Otago history as well as the occult. Following “a few [supernatural] experiences of our own,” the two decided, “this is a story that wanted to be told” and set to work on developing what became the “bare bones” of The Dunstan Creek Séance.

The Dunstan Creek Séance begins as a presentation for the Canterbury Psychic Society by occultists Suzanne and Arthur Bishop, a husband and wife whose paranormal investigations abruptly ended following an incident that put a young woman in hospital. After years out of the public eye, the Bishops have returned with a book “Ghosts of the Gold Rush”, a strict maxim of “research only” and refusing to discuss the events that caused their disgrace. However, during the presentation increasingly unsettling occurrences suggest that prior events are not so easily left behind. 

“The Forge is for work that pushes the boundaries,” says director Pengelly, “and this show explores the edges of what we believe. It will absolutely thrill and scare the audience in a way no horror film can. In a movie theatre, you know you’re safe.” 

This new work has already taken on something of a life of its own in rehearsal. Many elements of the show being kept strictly confidential, with theatre personnel required to sign secrecy clauses and rehearsals taking place in a secure room outside of the normal rehearsal space, incorporating some “protective elements” used in séances. “This play will scare the shit out of people – we’ve already begun scaring ourselves,” says Tollemache.

The Dunstan Creek Séance runs from 16 April – 7 May with a strict warning that the show is not suitable for those with a nervous disposition or heart condition. “Best to come with a group of friends and plan to do something nice afterwards,” says Tollemache. “Don’t go home alone.”

Supported by Pub Charity Limited
In the Pub Charity Studio: The Forge at The Court
16 April – 7 May 2016  Show Times: 
8:00pm, Monday – Saturday
Opening Night: Saturday 16th April, 8.00pm
Forum with cast & crew: Monday April 18th following the 8pm performance
11:00pm, Friday April 29th 
To Book phone 03 963 0870 or visit www.courttheatre.org.nz
Ticket Prices:  Child from $18; Under 25 from $23;
Senior/groups 10+ from $30; Adults from $35

Additional Information:

The Dunstan Creek Séance is the first show in The Court Theatre’s 2016-2017 Meridian Energy Season.

The Dunstan Creek Séance is presented by The Forge in association with Rollicking Entertainment; previous productions include Battle of the Bastards (winner of the “Iron Chicken” Critic’s Choice Award – World Buskers Festival 2014), Mr & Mrs Alexander: Sideshows & Psychics (winner “Outstanding Ensemble” – Ottawa Fringe 2014) and The Messy Magic Show (World Buskers Festival 2016). 

SOUTHLAND FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS 2017
Repertory House, Esk St
12-13 May 2017
8pm

The Dunstan Creek Haunting plays:
Herald Theatre, Aotea Centre
Tuesday 24 – Tuesday 31 October 2017 
Tuesday 24 & Wednesday 25, 7pm;
Thursday 26 – Saturday 28 October and Tuesday 31 October, 8pm
Sunday 29 October, 6pm
Recommended for ages 13 and over
Duration: 75 minutes (no interval)
Tickets: $20 -$35 (service fees apply)
#DunstanCreekHaunting #AucklandLive
Book at aucklandlive.co.nz/show/the-dunstan-creek-haunting  

Nelson Arts Festival 2018

WARNING: This show may contain paranormal activity and is not suitable for those with an extremely nervous disposition.
Recommended for age 13+ years, accompanied by an adult. 
Latecomers not admitted.

“Genuinely chilling and scary.” THE PRESS

“Real, immediate and all-encompassing. At times I clutch my seatmate, a woman I’ve never met before. She in turn grabs me, and then we laugh together. It is glorious.” THEATREVIEW

First produced in association with The Court Theatre, Christchurch
Rollicking Entertainment Ltd

SUTER THEATRE
Thu 11 & Fri 12 Oct 2018,
7pm
FULL $39 | UNDER 19 $25
SENIOR $35 | GROUP OF 6+ $35pp
Plus TicketDirect Service Fee
Book Now! 

Circa One
9 – 20 July 2019
Tues – Thurs 6.30pm
Fri – Sat 8pm
Sun 4pm
$25 – $52
Book Now!



Cast:
Lizzie Tollemache: Suzanne/Rose
David Ladderman: Arthur/Ben


Production Team (Court Theatre):
Daniel Pengelly: Director
Richard van den Berg: Set Designer
Sarah Douglas: Costume Manager
Sean Hawkins: Lighting Designer
Joe Hayes: Sound Designer/Operator
Christy Lassen: Properties Co-ordinator
Erica Browne: Stage Manager


Theatre , Magic/Illusion ,


1 hr

Kiwi ghost story with an eerie twist gets audience jumping

Review by Katie Townshend 15th Jul 2019

Early in The Dunstan Creek Haunting the audience is asked, do you believe in ghosts?  

The straw poll clearly reveals a majority of sceptics, but it’s easy to think there may be a few converts by the end of the 70 minute show by Rollicking Entertainment.

Expertly told by husband and wife duo Lizzie Tollemache and David Ladderman, this show transports the audience from Circa Theatre to the gold mining days in Central Otago, where a tragic love story unfolds. [More

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Entertainingly chill

Review by John Smythe 10th Jul 2019

As with last year’s Seven Deadly Stunts, our amiable hosts David Ladderman and Lizzie Tollemache initially format their show as a bit of a trot through history, this time illustrated with an ancient carousel slide projector. Dunstan Creek in the Central Otago Gold Fields circa 1861 offers rich pickings – “Where there’s gold there’s ghosts” – delightfully embellished by the fun fact that Lizzie and David were there on their honeymoon when they happened across the tale they’re about to share with us.

Having promised “thrills, chills and delight”, and canvassed the room for those who believe in the paranormal (or not), their presentation becomes more ‘tell’ than ‘show’ for a while, except … Nah – nothing spooky about that; just a technical stuff up, eh; move on … Oh but that photo with unmistakeable apparitions, taken – by the collodion process, presumably – well before Photoshop was invented … Some jaws drop while the sceptical grins gain a bit of rictus.

Tollemache and Ladderman know how to tell stories and tantalise with it. Their main focus is the murder of ‘the Rose of Dunstan Creek’ and thankfully they have dug a bit deeper in their ‘research’ to elevate her from the apocryphal ‘thought-to-be an itinerant prostitute’ to one Rose McKendry, an astute business woman from the north of England who owned and managed the Vulcan Hotel (still standing in St Bathans, as Dunstan Creek is now called).

It’s Ben Hunter, an Aussie chancer from the Ballarat goldfields, who wins her over – David and Lizzie are role-playing now, in a splendidly recreated setting – not least thanks to Shakespeare, would we believe. What a promising future awaits them. If only his booze-loosened tongue hadn’t run away with him down the pub … We are spared a re-enactment of the grisly details but left in no doubt that her murder was more than enough to spawn an angry spectre, doomed to haunt Room One at the Vulcan Hotel for generations to come – as many have testified over the years.  

A music box, a pocket watch and some copper tableware come into play, as do various lights – especially as the action builds to incorporate a séance, abetted by three carefully selected audience members. Enough said? You have to be there.

On a general note I feel that when apparently paranormal things happen unexpectedly, we are more likely to feel spooked that when they are accompanied by highly theatrical sound effects, which feels more like conscious contrivance. On the other hand some punters might like the reassurance that this is, indeed, theatre.

The ending does leave us with an unfinished feeling – but that’s how it is with ghosts, “Doomed … to walk the night”. For those willing to get into the spirit The Dunstan Creek Haunting is entertainingly chill (meaning cool). 

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Editor July 17th, 2019

Here is the link to John Smythe’s chat with Jesse Mulligan on RNZ Afternoons about Rollicking Entertainment’s Bathtime Bubbles and The Dunstan Creek Haunting.

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Palpable suspense in scary history

Review by Trish Sullivan 12th Oct 2018

I don’t know much about hauntings or ghosts. But when a show description states it’s not for those of a nervous disposition, I’m in. 

Lizzie Tollemache & David Ladderman enter to the booming Ghostbusters theme tune which gets a lot of laughs right from the off. This married couple proceed to give us a fascinating romp through the famous haunting stories of New Zealand. It’s like a low-tech TED talk complete with retro slide projector. But it is brilliant. Their pace, stage presence and comic timing are just so engaging.

We are absolutely compelled by the mysteries of the Chinese gold miners of Central Otago and the legends of the unclaimed bodies and unmarked graves that remain there. Not only are these tales of real people in real places, but Tollemache and Ladderman have visited these towns and researched all this themselves. On their honeymoon apparently …

Then things take a strange turn. As they play out the peculiar goings on in Room 1 of the Vulcan Hotel, St Bathans, in the 1880s, we know things aren’t quite right. Is there anybody there? 

The antics of the landlady and her lover are continually interjected with fast narrative and even audience instruction.  No one is quite sure what’s coming. The suspense is palpable. A soundscape befitting a horror film, and some extremely creative stage tech, keep us on the edge of our seats. “Just keep breathing.”

I certainly want to now go and visit these areas of interest and maybe take a ghost tour or two. So did I just experience a history lesson or a scary play? Maybe a bit of both. But I want more. I think perhaps we all enjoy being just a little bit spooked.

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Eerie drama brings Gold Rush to life

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 26th Oct 2017

A true tale from the Otago goldfields provides an entertaining setup for the psychic rush that comes from delving into the supernatural.

The journey starts innocuously enough with the show’s creators, Lizzie Tollemache and David Ladderman, regaling the audience with recollections of meanderings around the abandoned towns and sombre landscapes of Central Otago.

The 1860s Gold Rush created plenty of opportunities for unclaimed bodies to find their way into unmarked graves and a rich folklore has risen out of the nocturnal wanderings of these restless spirits. [More

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The horror element is wholly successful

Review by Nik Smythe 25th Oct 2017

Nothing sets the scene for ensuing spooky shenanigans like a dimly lit room with Persian rugs and old furniture, covered with drop cloths at first so you can’t actually see, but you just know it’ll be old, like the one hanging lampshade that isn’t concealed.

Writer/presenters Lizzie Tollemache and David Ladderman enter, appropriately dressed in black garb suggestive of the mid-to-late 19th century period featured in their uncanny tales, although belied by Ladderman’s red off-centre Mohawk, perhaps intended to resemble a bleeding head laceration? 

Upbeat and affable, the duo begin with a little background on their journey leading up to this presentation, essentially a visually-aided seminar revealing some of the many eerie archives and legends concerning ghostly events in Otago, New Zealand’s most haunted region. The prevalence of hundreds if not thousands of anonymous, unclaimed bodies from the gold rush era is typically offered as the reason for the district’s over-representation of tortured undead souls.   

Our intrepid researchers break the ice with a couple of shorter supernatural yarns: the truly touching story of the Lonely Graves at Millers Flat, and the nastier tale of destitute Chinese immigrants denied vital fuel in the freezing local winter. These serve as mere lubrication for their larger scale titular exposé – the grisly tragedy of one Rose McKendry of Room 1 at the Vulcan Hotel, Dunstan Creek (now Saint Bathans). Naturally such modern comforts as PowerPoint are eschewed for the far clunkier and spookier slide projector of yesteryear.  

As directed by Daniel Pengelly, there’s no real attempt at superrealism in the pair’s performance, though their delivery is strong and confident enough to easily accept the established conceit. To anyone who’s read the blurb it’s not really any secret that there’s more to this production than a mere history lesson. Inevitably strange, unsettling things begin to occur, just little things at first, ramping up throughout the 70 minute presentation to a rather audacious climax, conceptually similar to The Play That Goes Wrong; ‘The Lecture That Goes Supernatural’ if you like.

The effectiveness of the horror element is wholly successful for a couple of reasons. Firstly the excellently appointed technical production, operated by sound (and lighting?) designer Amber Molloy is essential in ratcheting up and maintaining degrees of awkwardness, anxiety and outright paranoia. Secondly, within a capacity crowd as with this opening night, there’s a reasonable chance it will include one or two particularly high-strung people who’ll squeal audibly at the very anticipation of something nasty. 

These charmingly skittish punters have a knock-on effect among the more cynical ones, so those who would be otherwise unfazed by the production itself may become more antsy and responsive due to the tension of their fellow audience members, making it a sort of minor exercise in mass hysteria. 

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An all-encompassing seatmate-clutching experience

Review by Sarah McCarthy 13th May 2017

“WARNING,” the programme says. “THIS SHOW CONTAINS PARANORMAL ACTIVITY AND IS NOT SUITABLE FOR THOSE OF A NERVOUS DISPOSITION.” 

I’m nervous. The audience is nervous. It’s the giggling that gives it away.

A cosy stage, scattered with black-sheeted objects is regarded with some trepidation by the 90 or so brave souls packing Invercargill’s Repertory House.

The lights go down.

Suzanne and Arthur Bishop (Lizzie Tollemache and David Ladderman) are attempting to give a talk on the spooky and sweetly sad stories they have unearthed in connection with the Central Otago gold rush.

Complete with glorious slide projector, Suzanne and Arthur present their findings in lecture style. It’s genuinely interesting (although in parts fantastical), and sets us up for the play within a play that drives the narrative forward and towards its climax: the tragic story of Rose, former owner of the famously haunted Vulcan Hotel.

But we are not alone in the theatre. Something has followed Suzanne and Arthur back from the goldfields. And it’s not happy. 

The show is both a technical and theatrical triumph. Sound and lighting (Amber Molloy), both high and low-tech, conspire with Tollemache and Ladderman’s dazzling stage presence to truly move the audience. It is one thing to make an audience laugh or cry, it is another thing altogether to scare us out of our wits.

Between delicious, tingly, creeping dread, glorious full-on scares and, at one point, actual fear on my part, The Dunstan Creek Séance is in turns bombastic and gentle, a lesson in controlled chaos, with a captivating energy that is sustained completely throughout the hour.

Tollemache and Ladderman – and Tollemache in particular, who holds the reins tightly and never lets go – know exactly what they’re doing. They aren’t afraid of a long silence, nor of breaking tension for a laugh. It is precisely this mastery that compels us to be taken, shrieking, along for the ride. 

There is no safe silver screen separating us from what is happening on the stage. To an audience used to having their scares delivered by Hollywood, whatever is causing things to happen in the theatre – and by that I mean both fictional and technical, and without wanting to give too much away – is real, immediate and all-encompassing.

At times I clutch my seatmate, a woman I’ve never met before. She in turn grabs me, and then we laugh together.

It is glorious.

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Interesting and original but unfulfilling and confusing

Review by Emer Lyons 07th Apr 2017

Arriving at the theatre my friend collects the tickets and passes along a warning from the staff to not give away any spoilers. This heightens my sense of trepidation. I am ready to be spooked and surprised. Candelabras dress the tables in the bar; sepia photographs of Central Otago and creepy images of the occult lead into the darkened theatre. The props on stage are shrouded in black sheets, adding to the thrilling air.

The Dunstan Creek Haunting is written and performed by Lizzie Tollemache and David Ladderman. The pair appear on stage as husband and wife paranormal investigators Suzanne and Arthur Bishop. They present to the audience a lecture with a slideshow of images of Central Otago during the Gold Rush, detailing their research into the topic of hauntings in the area. In particular they focus on the Vulcan Hotel.

The pair drift from their roles as paranormal investigators into a re-enactment of the legend of the Dunstan Creek Haunting. It is difficult as an audience member to understand their transition from paranormal investigation to acting. They attempt to build suspense with clever use of props and lighting but personally, I feel that disbelief is never suspended. The audience shakes with laughter more than terror; audible chuckles throughout alter the ambience of the theatre. The atmosphere drifts from the terrifying realm into one of light-hearted playfulness.

While finding my seat I had to squeeze past faces illuminated by phone screens; on the walk into the theatre, I used my own phone to capture the photographs lining the entrance hall. Yet in this performance, which uses archaic slides and a tape recorder, modern technology is absent. I would have thought that in the world of contemporary ghost hunting, technology would play a vital role. I find myself distracted by this absence.

The performance feels forced in areas, with the pair stumbling over each other’s lines and conveying a general out of sync sense. It is an interesting and original concept that shows an intriguing approach to theatre. But, I leave feeling unfulfilled and confused rather than terrified and wondering if perhaps ghost stories are the domain of the past. 

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Tension and apprehension ratcheted up with skill and conviction

Review by Lindsay Clark 17th Apr 2016

The second première production in a week, both from New Zealand writers, confirms The Court’s commitment to supporting local talent. As with Carl Nixon’s Matthew, Mark, Luke and Joanne, playing on the main stage, this polished piece of spookery is set to return the favour with excellent houses.

It is based on a framework of historical accounts of nineteenth century events in Central Otago, embellished by tales of haunting still in circulation there and arising from the violence which was part of life on the gold fields. That spiritualism and belief in the occult were also flourishing is carefully highlighted by the extensive wall display of cuttings and photographs at the entrance to the performance space, not to mention the cautionary notice paraded at the theatre door itself.

The stage is set up (designed by Richard van den Berg) within a mock proscenium, all items within being draped in black, except for a screen and carousel slide projector, reassuringly ordinary. It is all for Suzanne and Arthur Bishop, played by the writers, on the occasion of their book launch for Ghosts of the Gold Rush. A troubling experience in their past will be avoided we are told. We are to hear a strictly factual account of hauntings. 

To this end, she will operate the projector and act as prompt, while he elaborates and explains the scenes thus encountered. At least that is the way things start out.  She wears a costume of the era, he is attired in an old fashioned suit reminiscent of the period, and the introduction to their ‘lecture’ begins sedately. In retrospect it is a disarmingly clever strategy to settle us down. 

Their interest in the paranormal has had different origins. She is an acknowledged medium, able to be in touch with the spirit world and no doubt viewed with scepticism. Her husband, though, presents an objective, scholarly interest in the subject. As an erstwhile professor of the occult, he has an academic approach which is harder to dismiss – until the slides malfunction in a disturbing way and his cool is seriously threatened.   

From that point on, so is ours. It would be unconscionable to take the shine off this riveting tale by recounting, even in outline, how the material is developed. Suffice to say it is done with both skill and conviction, with tension and apprehension ratcheting up from moment to moment to a strong conclusion.

Lighting designer Sean Hawkins and sound designer/operator Joe Hayes contribute hugely to the events and atmosphere generated by the goings on. Impeccable timing from all concerned elevates the production to that rarely achieved beast, successful recreation of the supernatural in live theatre. 

Lizzie Tollemache and David Ladderman are outstanding in their roles, which develop well beyond the simple book launchers. Their work is subtle and detailed, delivered with complete authority and immediacy. While the hairs on the back of the neck don’t exactly stand up, there are plenty of involuntary responses from a captivated audience. 

Well-housed in the intimate space of The Forge, the production is a reminder of our lasting fascination with paranormal adventure, perhaps more than ever in an age when science explains so much mystery away. At little more than an hour long, this exploration is certainly a theatrical triumph whose impact satisfies that deeper need for a tale of the inexplicable. 

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