Jack The Ripper will always have top billing in any drama about his murderous exploits in Victorian London. But what about his victims?
RIP caused great excitement when it premiered at The Actor’s Church earlier this year and now old Leather Apron is back, this time at The King’s Head Theatre, Islington, along with the ghosts of the women he slaughtered, in a musical retelling of his exploits.
It’s being produced by Grindstone, a new theatre company of emerging young talent mainly, though not all, former graduates from the Italia Conti stage school.
Among the alma mater are Sonnie Beckett who founded the group, wrote the play and its music (along with Joe Morrow) and the couple also appear on stage.
RIP is set in the mortuary as doctors Thomas Bond (Morrow) and George Bagster Phillips (Thomas Deplae) examine the horrifically mutilated women’s corpses and try to discover the identity of their killer. They don’t hold back on the gruesome facts but, as a story, they don’t go far enough.
This rather visceral production is angled on five of the women we know to have died at the hands of a man who has gone down in the annals of history as Britain’s worst serial killer.
While we learn nothing new about the mythology we are treated to some powerful performances by the entire cast.
Gemma Brodrick’s “pretty” Polly Nichols opens the book of the dead with a story of an alcoholic prostitute who picked the wrong customer off the streets of Whitechapel.
We then run through the rest -a frightenly intimidating lunatic called Annie Chapman (the formidable Emma Hook, absolutely terrifying); the joint murders of Lizzie Stride and Catherine Eddowes (Stephanie De Whalley and Carla Turner) and finally (or was it?) the stomach-churning death of Mary Jane (Sarah Anne Cowell). The description of her cadaver will give you nightmares.
Throughout, a shadowy figure appears to join the women. Was Ellen Elliot (Beckett) another victim? All six demand answers from the good doctors.
It’s a very physical production with the women, bruised and battered, frequently hurling themselves to the floor to play dead or acting out their death throes, while the two men discuss their cases.
A veiled Jack makes brief appearances on stage. Peter-Lee Harper looks like the devil incarnate when he is finally unmasked. It’s a mesmerising cameo.
The songs fit well into the story with the whole cast providing strong vocals (particularly Hook) and emotionally compelling turns.
But RIP feels like a play half finished. At just an hour long (15 minutes shorter than billed) the story fails to take us any further than Wikipedia’s Ripper entry.
There’s the opportunity to tell a more rounded drama and to flesh out the folklore without losing the integrity of the piece. What’s there is well done but cash-strapped audiences will want more than a 60-minutes catalogue of Jack The Ripper’s evil crimes.
RIP plays on July 14/15 and 21. For tickets call the box office 0207 478 0160 or go online www.kingsheadtheatre.com