The Laudanum Project bring another gloriously horrific production to the abandoned Ararat Lunatic Asylum.

Ever pushing the boundaries, The Laudanum Project have again created a piece that is not for the faint of heart. Their “most nightmarish work” yet is taking special residence at the Ararat Lunatic Asylum in Victoria this Halloween.

The Grand Guignol Automation is the company’s fourth production, and it’s a piece that had an extreme reception in its Melbourne Fringe season, much to the delight of the horror-themed production’s creators.

“We had one audience member who looked like they were going to get physically ill,” says Nick Ravenswood, writer and performer with The Laudanum Project. “Another doubled over and groaned quite loudly: ‘this is sooo gory.’ It was kind of funny, as it was really audible from the stage. On opening night we had two rather pale looking people get up and leave quite abruptly during one of the more extreme scenes,” Ravenswood admits. “It’s very exciting to see people having strong physical reactions to a show that consists of nothing more than just words and music. It means we have done our job.”

The Grand Guignol Automation. Photos: Arayah Loynd

Set in Paris in 1920, this one act play explores the obsessions, phobias and waking nightmares of Sandrine, a young woman whose inverse perceptions of beauty and love lead her on a terrifying journey that leaves her transformed and reborn.

The concept was one that Ravenswood was toying with for several years before bringing it to the stage. An ongoing interest in the Théâtre Du Grand Guignol (the Parisian theatre of terror) led him to look into its twisted productions. “During my research I found the themes that were explored consisted of very real human horrors such as murder, torture and insanity, while subjects of a supernatural nature were completely avoided.” Ravenswood hopes the production will also raise some questions about the modern perception of appearance. “I found myself looking more closely at how we see ourselves, especially our bodies and to be much more specific, women’s bodies. These days the perceptions of what is deemed to be beautiful or ugly seem so profoundly confused that we now have beautiful young girls surgically altering themselves in the weirdest ways with lip augmentations, botox injections and face lifts that eventually render them ugly and grotesque, yet the whole time they seem to be viewing themselves as becoming more and more beautiful.”

The most horrific aspect for the audience however, says Ravenswood, is what happens within their own minds. “I think the big surprise for most of our audiences is that they end up painting a lot of the horrific images in the story themselves. That can be a very unsettling process. The Laudanum Project supplies the narration and the soundtrack but it’s the listener who really creates the world that is suggested,” says Ravenwood. “It’s a really nifty little marriage and we relish every second. I think if we got up on stage and threw blood and guts all over the place the power of the story and the carefully constructed atmosphere would be rendered redundant. We may not look like it but we’re all about the subtlety.”

From the reactions of audiences of the Fringe Festival, it was clear the group had hit the mark, but the upcoming performance will have yet another level of horror. Held at the Ararat Lunatic Asylum, an old abandoned asylum with a morbid history and a reputation for haunting encounters, the play will be infused with a tense energy.

“At the asylum it’s completely and utterly our world,” says Ravenswood. “We usually set up the shows in the old chapel, which has a very lonely and sombre feel to it. Because the asylum is abandoned the entire site has an eerie, isolated atmosphere that is pretty unique. The chapel will be totally transformed and the show itself will be a lot more intense.” The Laudanum Project will be taking full advantage of their spooky surroundings, Ravenswood reveals. “There’s something very interesting that happens when you place an audience into an environment like a disused jail or asylum, it’s as though everyone goes on high alert and as a result there is an added tension that you just don’t get in a traditional venue. You can almost smell it.”

For more information and to book tickets, visit The Laudanum Project or call 1300 856 668.