Sunday 13 August 2023

What Was That? review

It's not often a production gets to celebrate its 1000th show, but What Was That? did just that on Saturday 12 August. This immersive ghost tour through Werribee Park Mansion gives audience an overview of the home's history and the family that built it in the 1870s, the Chirnsides.

With permission granted by the production team to start the show five minutes late to watch the Matilda's win over France in the penalty shoot out in their World Cup match, the mood in the audience was in very high spirits and completely up for the thrills and delights our hosts had planned for us.

We are met at the entrance by the personable head maid Maggie (Alaine Beek) and the crabby butler Mr Duncan (Ross Daniels). As "we are all friends of the Chirnsides" we are led through the various rooms of this lush mansion.

The tour is informative and highlights the divide between staff and residents, what were acceptable and expected behaviours from both sides and the purpose and function of each room.

 Beek and Daniels are wonderful as our guides, and considering they have been playing them for roughly two decades, it's no real surprise. Their interactions with the audience are sharp and humourous and while not all jokes land, they quickly recover and take us deeper into the story. 

As the tour progresses, footsteps can he heard running upstairs, doors slam, items move on their own and "shoddy" lights keep flickering. Gradually we are told of the deaths and tragedy that took place on the property. Portraits and personal items of these people are pointed out and as we stand in the rooms where they once stood (and died) a unsettling ambiance begins to take over.

While its structure has proven to be a winning one, it would be great if the stories linked more to the Chirnsides and built on the suspense, keeping us intrigued as to their fates. There were times when it felt like we were in two separate shows: a retelling of the lives of the Chirnsides and a history of living in the 1800s. The finale could also have been carried out in a more dramatic way rather than its current expository delivery.

Even with these shortcomings, What Was That? remains a unique and rare opportunity to step foot into this mansion and be regaled by the stories and fascinated by the decor and design as we are taken to a period where life was very different. Just keep an eye out for things that go bump in the night.


Venue: Werribee Park Mansion, K Road, Werribee

Season: Performed most weekends all year round. See website for dates and times.

Duration: 90 minutes

Tickets: $45 Full | $38 Concession
Bookings: Essence Theatre Productions

Image Credit:
Imran Kashem

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