A haunting at the garden

From Oct. 21–31, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden will host a Halloween event where visitors have the chance to become part of a real-life mystery story.

Andrew Wade and Martha Ansfield-Scrase perform in Judge Dee’s Chinatown Haunted House.| Photo by David Newham.

Andrew Wade and Martha Ansfield-Scrase perform in Judge Dee’s Chinatown Haunted House.| Photo by David Newham.

We call it Judge Dee’s Chinatown Haunted House. It is based on the real Judge Dee, from Ancient China,” says Daniel Deorksen one of the artistic producers of Seven Tyrants Theatre, the group putting on the event.

Judge Dee was a real person, who was a magistrate and a statesman of the Tang court. He was also celebrated as an amazing detective.

“He was sort of the Chinese Sherlock Holmes. People in later China wrote a lot of books about him, about his exploits – mostly murder mysteries,” says Deorksen.

“We’re basing the Haunted House on some of his stories. There is a lot of graphic material: torture, murder and the like. You definitely have to be a certain age to enjoy it,” he adds.

A self-guided house

According to Deorksen, the actors work to make the audience participants in the story, not just observers.

“When you’re turning a corner, someone might pull away someone from your party. Then they reappear a few seconds later. Parts are up in the air. It changes a little each time,” says Deorksen.

There is a story to the scares: you follow clues throughout the passageways of the house. Characters you encounter will accuse each other of crimes and you have to decide yourself who’s guilty and who’s innocent.

“You’re helping Judge Dee with a mystery. He’ll be found along the way, but he doesn’t guide you. You have to find your own way through,” says Wade.

The beginning of the horror

Seven Tyrants originally came up with the idea during a performance in 2008, when it got dark one night during a show and the actors were scaring each other backstage.

“While that was going on, someone showed us a book about Judge Dee and told us, ‘You have to read this.’ So we did, and that, combined with the actors scaring each other, was kind of a bingo moment for us,” says Deorksen.

Started in 2011 and now entering its fourth year, the Haunted House still has actors, dressed up in authentic garments of the time period, as the heart of the performance. According to them, the Haunted House is not about jump scares: it’s about theatre.

“The biggest difference between this [haunted house] and others, is that we’re approaching it from a [theatrical] perspective, not a technical one. We’re wanting to create a story, an adventure, not just have a bunch of skeletons fall from the ceiling,” says actor Andrew Wade.

For Wade, the beauty of the performance is that each group reacts to the Haunted House a little differently, making each trip through the house an unique event.

Actor Andrew Wade.| Photo by David Newham.

Actor Andrew Wade.| Photo by David Newham.

“I love the differences between what to say with different groups, when you’ve got the unruly groups, the ones who don’t want to interact as much, you have to think on the fly as to how to engage as well as scare them as much as possible,” says Wade.

Judge Dee’s Chinatown Haunted House
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Oct. 21–31