Following the success of its 2019 production Kreepy Kensington, local company Oily Rag Theatre is presenting a perambulating compendium of historical anecdotes during this year’s season.

Darker Side of Bowden starts opposite 140 Drayton Street, the former Jansen’s furriers now much admired for its distinctive heritage façade. “Has anyone seen my bicycle?” Our host for the evening, Beatrice the ghost, has lost track of her transport on the trip from the underworld, but thankfully she’s kept hold of her history book – a volume of news clippings and little-known facts she’s keen to share.

She introduces herself as a “beehive broad” who was happily employed sewing shirts in a factory (known as the beehive) just down the road. Her former workplace is on our travels but first we uncover the origins of the tannery originally operated by Herman Geisler. Built in 1890, it was one of the last of its kind in the area.

Accompanying Beatrice, we explore key sites across the suburb. Our host, fittingly attired in Edwardian garb, sets a cracking pace and imparts an enormous amount of detail during her episodic monologue.

We learn about the hard times and violence that touched the lives of many Bowden inhabitants. In a ragged mix of shanty-style housing and “dirty” industry, piggeries, bootmakers, brick kilns and lime pits sat alongside tiny, crowded workers’ dwellings. Guns were fired in passion as well as during the commission of crime, and inquests often took place in the local pub.

Moving briskly from point to point, we hear of the tragic and the inspirational. Aside from the strikes, robberies, accidental deaths and suicides that were common in the neighbourhood, a strong theme of triumph over adversity emerges. Families and fortunes grow, and true change-makers emerge to make waves far beyond their humble beginnings.

Two key figures – famous suffragette Muriel Matters, “the lady of the grill”, and Richard Hayley Lever, the Australian-American impressionist artist – both began life in Bowden and are given the spotlight by our spectral host.

The 1.7km walk includes about a dozen stops, many providing the opportunity to sit briefly to give our legs a rest. It was dark by the time our journey reached its end (poor Beatrice might have appreciated a lamp) but this only added to the atmosphere. Top tips: bring a jacket, wear sensible walking shoes and don’t forget you’ve got to retrace your steps at the end.

Writer and performer Shannon Norfolk has created an absorbing piece of theatre packed with information that will be new to most. This small show (only 20 audience members per night) is sure to appeal to people looking for a fun, fresh-air Fringe experience.

Darker Side of Bowden walking tour is being hosted in the streets and parks of Bowden until March 19. 

Read more 2022 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews here.

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