What happens when those who are put into positions of care - like nurses and nannies - end up being the people who should fear the most? Presented by the The Laudanum Project, The Baby Farmer is storytelling at its most unsettling and grotesque with its exploration of infanticide - and a firm highlight at this year's Melbourne Fringe Festival.
Set in London's East End in the 1870's, The Baby Farmer revolves around a mother and daughter, Winnifred Alcorn and Agatha May, who get caught up in the gruesome murders of a number of babies. What makes this story even more disturbing is that it is loosely based on fact, where in the late-Victorian era, women (baby farmers) would take custody of a baby or child in exchange for payment. One infamous baby farmer was Amelia Dyer who is regarded as one of the world's most prolific serial killers, said to be potentially responsible for up to 400 murders.
If that wasn't enough to creep you out, our storyteller, Alphonse Cheese-Probert, finishes the job. Dressed in tattered black clothes with a ghoulish appearance and eyes that take much courage to look into, he begins to relay the tale of Winnifred Alcorn. Nick Ravenswood's performance is flawless, with a magnificent transformation in speech, body language and movement. Each syllable of every word is carefully pronounced so as to create maximum tension and his silent pauses throughout give the audience just enough time for his vivid descriptions to sink in. His ability to capture an audience and retain their attention through nothing but his words is a sign of masterful storytelling.
Running along the front of the stage are 11 steel spikes, each with a doll - or a doll's body part - savagely impaled on them. This simple touch immediately gives an indication as to what to expect with the story and The Baby Farmer lives up to those expectations. With minimal set pieces and visual aids, it is the lighting and the music that become the focal point in terms of design with this production.
The lighting feels like an homage to horror masters of cinema with red and green lights painting Alphonse's face and body reminding me of Dario Argento's Suspiria, and at other times the black and white effect when combined with Alphonse's make-up, has our storyteller looking like he belongs in Nosferatu. Similarly, Gareth Skinner's incorporation of music into the tale adds much suspense and edginess. Skinner swaps between the keyboard and the cello creating a score filled with dread and disquiet as it seamlessly blends with Ravenswood's chilling words.
Sometimes the most frightening visuals that can be created are in your mind, and because of that The Laudanum Project's The Baby Farmer is an intense nightmare that you can't escape from.
Click here to read my interview with Nick Ravenswood.
Venue: The Meat Market, 3 Blackwood St, North Melbourne.
Season: until 30 September | 9:00pm
Length: 80 minutes
Tickets: $35 Full | $30 Conc | $25.50 Group 6+
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival