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Welcome to their nightmare

Sunday Herald Sun 4 June, 2000, pp 85
By Adam Zwar with illustration by Rick Butcher

Drew SintonThe longest-running production in many old theatres is the spook show. Adam Zwar reports.

Ghosts are the stock-in-trade of any ancient theatrical house. They watch shows from their favourite seats, regularly change costumes, blow cold wind on to the audience and make on-stage appearances.

In Melbourne, ghosts have been reported at the Princess Theatre, the Greater Union theatres in Russell St, Elsternwick's Classic Cinema and Melbourne Town Hall.

Perth's Picadilly Theatre has a ghost - as does Hobart's Theatre Royal and Brisbane's Twelfth Night Theatre.

The ghost that once haunted Brisbane's Her Majesty's Theatre has remained, despite the venue being turned into a bar.

Recently, its activities have been confined to spooking patrons and chasing bar staff from the cellar.

A 'friendly ghost' lives at the Majestic Theatre in the small Queensland town of Pomona, near Noosa.

There is also a ghost at Stirling Community Theatre near Adelaide. It is said to be the spirit of a man who slept with his mate's wife when the building was a council chambers in the 1880s.

The man was stuffed in the building's safe and suffocated.

But Australia's most famous theatrical ghost resides in Melbourne. It is the spirit of opera singer Federici (aka Frederick Baker) who died in the finale of Charles Gounod's Faust at the Princess Theatre in 1888.

Federici had a heart attack while descending into 'hell' through a trapdoor.

Since then, Federici has been seen by scores of actors, patrons and theatre workers.

Ghost tour operator Drew Sinton said Princess Theatre owners David and Elaine Marriner would not allow priests or mediums to 'pray Federici away'.

'Everyone who works there accepts him,' Sinton said. 'Elaine Marriner has had experiences with Federici.

'But she really likes having him there and would be annoyed if anyone went in and moved him on.'

Rob Guest received a letter when playing the lead role in Phantom Of The Opera from a woman who said that while sitting in the dress circle she saw Federici standing to his left.

And an actor in West Side Story was putting on make-up when a hat mysteriously flew off the stand beside her.

'Seventy per cent of the cast of Les Miserables seems to have had a brush with Federici,' Sinton said.

According to Sinton, nine ghosts inhabit Elsternwick's Classic Cinema.

'Strange thumps have been heard in the night, particularly around the projection room of the main theatre,' he said.

'Lights have turned on and off by themselves and several members of staff have been spooked.'

A medium was brought into the Classic last year and 'picked up' the name 'Sharon'.

Sinton discovered the building was a 1930s dance hall called the Sharon. And the thumping? The ghosts dancing, of course.

The spirit at the Greater Union has made Cinema 1 his home.

'It's the ghost of George, the cleaner,' Sinton said. 'He was an old cleaner who used to work in Cinema 1 about 10 years ago.

He recommended one of the other cleaners take his job when he died. And he said if he did not do it properly, he would haunt him.

'When George died, the cleaner did take over his job. And George did haunt him. The cleaner has vowed never to work in Cinema 1 again.'

The ghost at Melbourne Town Hall emerged in June, 1982, when organist Thomas Haywood was recording Percy Grainger's Colonial Song.

'Haywood said the ghost would walk around the organ while he was playing,' Sinton said.

'He also noticed some organ stops were changing by themselves. Haywood finally shouted at the ghost: 'Go away and let me finish'.'

The ghost never returned.

The production manager at Brisbane's Twelfth Night Theatre, Shaun Boland, has seen 'Elizabeth', the theatre's teenage ghost, several times.

Boland said two appearances by the long-haired ghost on the same day was a bad omen for a show.

British theatre, of course, boasts hundreds of ghost histories - many of which can be found in Ned Sherrin's book Theatrical Anecdotes.

Sherrin writes that the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, has the Man in Grey, a spectre whose appearances are confined to successful runs.

He inhabits the upper parts of the theatre, and occasionally changes costume.

He also disappears through solid walls.

When the theatre was rebuilt, a skeleton with a dagger in its ribs was found behind a brick wall.

The popular theory has it that this is the origin of the ghost, killed in a duel.

Sinton says ghosts have always been attracted to theatres.

'People who loved the places where they worked in life, sometimes come back,' he said.

'Maybe their idea of heaven is the place they loved when they were alive.'


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Psychic's Handbook
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"When you have bought your fill of paranormal books, tarot cards and occult jewellery, you can come back at 8.30 pm on a Saturday for one of Sinton's very popular ghost walk tours of Melbourne" - Narrelle Harris, author Witch Honour

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