Psychological thriller set in 1809, Newfoundland set to chill the spine

The Double Axe Murders, a psychological thriller based on true events that happened in Newfoundland 200 years ago, will have its West Coast debut at Richmond’s Gateway Theatre Nov. 14.

Bringing the gruesome tale to the West Coast has been a decade-long mission for the play’s director Tamara McCarthy.

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In 2007, McCarthy went to Cow Head, Newfoundland to lead a series of physical theatre workshops. During her stay, she saw a production of The Double Axe Murders.

“This play really struck me and stayed with me for weeks,” said McCarthy, who quickly determined that more Canadians needed to be exposed to this gory part of Canadian history.

However, when McCarthy told playwright Berni Stapleton about her desire to stage the play on the West Coast, the discussion didn’t go as planned. 

“She (Berni) said, ‘I appreciate your enthusiasm, but it’s not going to happen. Nobody (on the West Coast) is interested in Newfoundland.’”

McCarthy begged to differ. 

“The play is about isolation, loneliness, love and spirituality. All these themes resonate with everyone. It’s part of Canada; it’s a piece of Canadiana.”

The Double Axe Murders tells the story of two trappers who disappeared at Cow Head, Newfoundland, in 1809. Sarah Singleton, the sister of one of the men, sets out with a companion to solve the mystery.  Along their journey, they stumble upon the trappers’ abandoned cabin in the middle of a cold winter’s night and are greeted by a mysterious stranger. 

The biggest challenge in creating a thriller, explained McCarthy, is exactly that – evoking that spine-tingling thrill.

McCarthy feels she’s done that by “digging deep into the psychological aspect of these characters. All three characters are dealing with ‘ghosts’ that haunt their minds. 

Another challenge with this production was setting the play in 1809, in an uninhabited environment.

 “I’ve never lived in a place uninhabited by people, but I needed to put myself in this position of what it must be like for these characters in this environment 200 years ago,” said McCarthy.

And despite the title, those who don’t like blood and gore, needn’t worry. The horror is mainly in the head.

 “People will sit on the edge of their seats and follow the story; each moment is quite intense...they will fall into the mysterious journey as the story is unfolding,” she added. 

The Double Axe Murders will be running at Gateway Theatre from Nov. 14 to 23. For more information, check out

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