Murder, theft, adultery, decapitation. It is just your standard night in Bowden, South Australia, at the turn of the twentieth century.
Beatrice (Shannon Norfolk) is a former Bowden factory worker. She has risen from the grave to act as a tour guide. Dressed in the garb of the era and with a ghostly white face, Beatrice leads a small group on a walking tour around the streets of Bowden sharing true stories of the suburb’s early years.
The tour begins on the corner of Drayton and Fifth by a dilapidated former tannery, at the intersection where historical Bowden melds into present-day Bowden. The smashed windows, faded signage, and graffitied walls capture the eeriness at the juncture of past and present.
With Beatrice leading the way, the tour traverses through the streets and parks of Bowden. It stops at pivotal locations such as the corner of Gibson and Ninth, the Church of the Good Shepherd (now Activate Church), Parfitt Square, Emu Park, and the heritage Bowden train station, among others, to relay stories of people past. Tales of jealous lovers, robbery, worker’s rights, personal success, pandemics, and horrific workplace accidents that would have any work health safety professional wincing in disgust highlight the dark underbelly of historical Bowden.
Norfolk is an excellent storyteller. Tasked with the challenging assignment of retelling history while guiding a group of people across almost two kilometres, she did well to remain in character. Especially when encountering members of the public not part of the guide. A few occasional verbal stumbles were quickly resolved by checking the notebook that formed part of the costume. Her impromptu reaction to a light turning on in Emu Park at sunset was delightfully in the spirit of Beatrice and added to the capriciousness of the performance.
Oily Rag Theatre’s Darker Side of Bowden is full of intrigue. It is a fascinating insight into the history of one of South Australia’s ‘up-coming’ suburbs. An ‘up-coming’ suburb founded in 1836, mind you. Set amongst leafy Bowden as day turns to night, it is both an educational and entertaining experience, something different to the norm of Adelaide Fringe shows.
Fringe Review By Anita Kertes