The clock strikes twelve and I warily peer into the dim interior of the darkened warehouse. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, a noise guides my eyes up towards the winding staircase. Through the gloom I see ….. a raven. No, no, no, not a raven.
It’s the lovely Kirsten Siddles, Director of A Midnight Visit. Kirsten is not the Undertaker dressed in black as I was expecting , but a charming blonde lady with intelligent blue eyes behind her cool blue circular glasses. Dressed casually in a striped blue button up, rolled jeans and sneakers, Kirsten is not sporting a dagger but a paintbrush.
All hands are on deck in the final days before opening. Director, Kirsten Siddles, seems particularly happy to be back in her hometown of Brisbane after touring Sydney, Melbourne and Perth with her immersive theatre show, A Midnight Visit, where the show won rave reviews and played to many repeat visitors. It’s based on the life of Edgar Allen Poe and will take Brisbane audiences on a ‘choose your own adventure’ style experience never before seen in our fair city. She Society were lucky enough to speak to Kirsten ahead of the show and grab a sneak peek into the magical world she has created.
Kirsten is an alumnus of the University of Queensland where she studied music. She has held many creative roles including Director of Programming at QPAC and the Melbourne Recital Centre and was Director of SummerSalt Outdoor Arts Festival. Kirsten describes herself as a bit Australian and a bit British.
Queensland is Kirsten’s home base and she lives on a houseboat with her equally creative partner. The houseboat is usually moored on the Gold Coast but is now at Kangaroo Point, making Kirsten’s commute to work so easy. She is loving walking along the river to work in the bustling Fortitude Valley precinct, right near our fabulous James Street.
When we meet we are greeted by the sounds of hammers and drills, the smell of turpentine and paint and as we walk into the darkened hallway, the crunch of sawdust underfoot. The team from The House of Usher are hard at work preparing the 34 individual rooms for audiences, ahead of their opening on July 27. Even Kirsten’s Mum, Lillian, is wielding a paintbrush. She jokes that her role is ‘ VP of black paint ‘. Everyone pitches in during these final days of preparation.
A Midnight Visit is a multi-room, multi-sensory and magnificently macabre experience, which invites you to explore a dark dreamworld of thrills, obsession, decadence and awe. A performance like no other, you will encounter strange characters, eldritch scenes and uncanny splendour as you journey deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of mystery. No two journeys are the same and you can delve as much or as little as you like into the mysterious spaces. There are rooms and passages you may never even find!
As we tour the winding spaces, there are rooms of pure beauty, of darkness, whimsy and decadence. Pieces within each room have been lovingly sourced and it is soon clear that this experience will be multi- sensory with a mix of performance, art, sound and senses, including the sixth sense.
Kirsten shows me one of her favourite rooms – The Hospital. Poe knew a lot about pandemics and the eerie feel of a hospital room from the past, with all it’s austere and cold furnishings and yet filled with macabre equipment , gives this writer a shiver, as I reconcile it with the times we are living in now. It’s also a reminder that humans have been here before and come out the other side.
Much thought has gone into each room. There are rooms of great beauty : decadent dining rooms filled with beautiful ivy, furniture and crystal, menacing graveyards leading into a riotously coloured ball pit where you can stay and play or small trinket – filled rooms which invite exploration.
We walk into one room where my son gasps, “This looks just like it’s from Twin Peaks.” Kirsten smiles a knowing smile, “Yes, you are so right. I love referencing pop culture in the show and it’s great to see that ‘aha’ moment when an audience member realises the reference, whether it’s from Twin Peaks or The Simpsons.”
When I ask Kirsten why she chose Poe she says, “I love and re-read the classics as well as loving popular culture. Poe was one of the first writers to make a living out of writing. People clamoured for his work. He was a great trickster too. One of his earliest pieces was an article in the newspaper, The Sun, in New York and was about a man who flew a hot air balloon, crossing the Atlantic in three days. Of course no-one flew anything over the Atlantic for another 75 years. The story was completely fictitious, created entirely from Poe’s imagination, but it caused such a stir with huge crowds trying to buy copies of the paper outside The New York Sun offices. He provides us with a rich wealth of material which is still relevant to this day. He was ahead of his time.”
Many of the actors who will be performing in this moveable feast for the senses are from Brisbane and interestingly two roles – The Raven and The King – are for the first time being played by female performers. You might see The Nurse in the hospital or she will be equally at home on the deck of a sailing ship. There are surprises in store in every different space. You may even enjoy a one on one performance.
Kirsten’s favourite part is eavesdropping in the bar after the show, where each excited person’s experience is different.
Kirsten says, “You can try a cocktail based on the show and share your experience with friends. That’s why so many people book in for a second and third time, everyone has a different experience. We have superfans like one fan from Perth who had booked in for eight shows here in Brisbane. In each city we change the rooms adding some new ones to keep it interesting for us all.“
Kirsten Siddles is warm and engaging, just a dream to interview, with an obvious passion for the Arts. She assures me that her next venture is completely different. I’ll just have to wait and see. It is so inspiring to meet someone who is so engaged with all aspects of the Arts, is full of pure imagination and who strives to create different and engaging experiences for her audience.
For a show that will delight the senses and immerse you in a world where you will emerge exhilarated, challenged and changed, head to A Midnight Visit, which is playing now at 95 Robertson Street, Fortitude Valley until August 22. Remember to don your black as a raven look and perhaps add feathers. As Poe says, “ Is all that we see or seem, but a dream within a dream? “ You decide!
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).