This September at the bluestone church arts space

Following the successful run during the Bangkok Theatre Festival, “The True History of the Tragic Life and Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana, the Ugliest Woman in the World” by Shaun Prendergast will make its Australian premiere this September as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, promising an unprecedented theatrical experience in which the audience will be able to feel, hear, smell and touch – but not see! 

(Upon its return to Thailand, Peel the Limelight will present “Spoonface Steinberg” by Lee Hall as part of the Bangkok Theatre Festival 2017. Click here for more information.)


Based on true EVENTS

The play tells the story of a poor indigenous Mexican woman, born in the 1830s with a disfiguring genetic condition and sold as a child to be exhibited in freak shows around the world.

A remarkably talented performer and often billed as “Monkey Woman” or “The Nondescript”, Julia Pastrana became a carnival sideshow celebrity, attracting the interest of scientists, artists, and influential people of her time - some  even speculated she was  the "missing link" between ape and human!

Her agent, an American businessman known as Lent, with the intention to secure his investment, for himself alone, makes her his wife and impregnates her. The baby dies at birth and the mother succumbs to postpartum fever a few days later. Reluctant to bury and leave his treasure behind, Lent embalms the bodies and exhibits them in a glass cabinet for years.

He ends up in a mental institution but Julia and her son continue travel the world for more than a century after their death.

The audience will be (and must remain) blindfolded to experience the show

Peel the Limelight’s production will be a sensory performance based on perception, discrimination and exploitation.

From the Mexican rural market where Julia is sold off as a child, by way of the tent where she lives and performs, to the Russian morgue where she is embalmed, the public explores the world of Julia Pastrana deprived of sight, through all the other senses.

an award-winning production

The play was staged as part of the 13th edition of the Bangkok Theatre Festival (2015), winning multiple nominations and specific awards for Best Ensemble and Best Direction. The production opened in Thailand to a sold-out season and critical acclaim.

“This is the company’s boldest production yet. For the entire show, our sight is taken away by blindfolds. And the result is an intense sensory experience that provokes the imagination.”
— Bangkok Post, 19/11/2015
“For those intrigued by contemporary theatre, Peel the Limelight’s production is an exquisite exploration in creative drama and the imaginative power of sound.”
— What’s on Sukhumvit, 15/11/2015


“The True History of the Tragic Life and Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana, the Ugliest Woman in the World” is based on true events. During her lifetime, the real Julia Pastrana attracted the attention of influential people of her time such as P.T. Barnum and even Charles Darwin, who included her in his book “The Variation of Animal and Plants under Domestication”.

In 2013, more than a century and a half after her death, Julia Pastrana was given a proper burial near her birthplace in Sinaloa, Mexico. A New York Times article credited Shaun Prendergast's play as the inspiration for the nearly decade-long campaign that had her repatriated from a locked storage room in an Oslo research institute. Julia's return would have not been possible without the restless work of the New York-based visual artist Laura Anderson Barbata.

Video animation created in collaboration with Laura Anderson Barbata, Rafael Esquer-Alfalfa Studio and Magne Furuholmen. 


Photo courtesy of Shaun Prendergast

Photo courtesy of Shaun Prendergast

The play was written by British actor and playwright Shaun Prendergast. A founder member of Sir Kenneth Branagh's Renaissance Theatre Company, he has also made appearances as a pantomime dame –described on his debut in the Daily Telegraph as 'the finest, funniest pantomime Dame in London.' He has written extensively for the stage, television, radio and film.

Julia’s story is endlessly fascinating to me, not because of what it teaches me about Julia Pastrana, but because of what it teaches us about ourselves. Thank you for coming and I hope that by the end of the play you will come to know Julia a little better, and that her story will stay with you.
— Shaun Prendergast


WRITTEN by Shaun Prendergast
DIRECTED by Peter O'Neill

STARRING: Peevara Kitchumnongpan, James Laver, Sasithorn Panichnok, Siree Riewpaiboon, Claire Stanley & Jaime Zúñiga

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kochawan Chayawan
SOUND DESIGN: Surasak Kerdsin


This performance contains:

  • Adult language and themes
  • Loud and sudden sounds
  • Strong smells
  • Possible contact with the performer


Venue: Bluestone Church Arts Space
8A Hyde Street, Footscray VIC 3011
Dates: September 14 – 23
(no show on Monday 18)
Times: 8:30 PM
(September 16-17 at 6:00 PM and 8:30 PM)
Running time: 65 minutes
Rating: PG (recommended for 16 years of age or older)


This performance is not audio-described in the conventional sense –through the use of a small radio receiver, for instance. However, the audience will experience the entire show through sound, smell and touch. No visual elements need to be described throughout the performance.

How to book

Phone: (03) 9660 9666

Ticket prices

Bluestone Church Arts Space is located at 8A Hyde Street, Footscray VIC 3011

Bluestone Church Arts Space is located at 8A Hyde Street, Footscray VIC 3011