AN EVENING WITH JACK THE RIPPER
Tudor World, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 17th April, 2019
Having enjoyed the superlative Ebenezer’s Christmas Carol at this venue back in December, I am thrilled and honoured to be invited to be part of a select group at this try-out of a new event. As with the Dickens show, the Tudor setting of this glorious old building lends itself surprisingly well to the nooks and crannies of Victorian Whitechapel – everywhere looks the same in the dark, I suppose! – and there is something undeniably creepy about the museum with the lights out, with the dark shapes of mannequins looming all around…
Based on an idea by Steve Mitchell, researched and devised by Janet Ford, with dramaturgy and script by Paul Norton, the scene is set for our investigation. Our host is Inspector Aberline (Paul Norton) who gathers us in a briefing room. We, the guests, are cast as fellow detectives and are equipped with clipboards and pencils with which to record our findings. Aberline and his able assistant, Detective Swanson (Hannah Joyce) feed us a lot of information, placing the infamous murders within their social context. It is immediately fascinating.
The briefing is interrupted by blasts from a police whistle, summoning us into the main house. We troop in by lantern-light and are led up to the first floor, where we find the outline of a woman on the landing. Aberline introduces us to the first victim, filling us in on her background before describing in forensic detail and with the help of a volunteer, the vicious murder itself. (You may be called upon to lie on the floor!) The inspector takes us through to another room – there’s the second victim…
We return to the briefing room to jot down our notes and discuss our thoughts. Another whistle blast summons us back in for victims three and four…
There’s a break for tea and biscuits and more discussion, before we are taken to the fifth and final crime scene of the evening. This is the most detailed, most shocking of the lot, with Hannah Joyce representing Mary Kelly on a bed. Throughout the evening, Joyce has provided voices for the victims, making them people rather than props in a story, but here it really hits home as Mary Kelly addresses us directly. Yes, the accounts are shocking, the details gruesome and in some cases, sickening, but the presentation is all the more effective because of its restraint.
We reconvene for a final sharing of thoughts and to posit our theories about the various suspects who were in the frame at the time. It’s a thoroughly engaging experience but, inevitably, there can be no definite conclusion. There is an enduring power to this real-life mystery; if Jack the Ripper were ever truly unmasked, the legend would lose some of its attraction.
Although proceedings need a tighter ending, this is an enjoyably intriguing evening that induces us to use our grey matter to tease out pieces of the puzzle. Once again, it is an unadulterated pleasure to listen to the consummate story-telling skills of Paul Norton, and the splendid support he is given by Hannah Joyce and the unseen presence of Antony Hardy.
Out of necessity, numbers are restricted due to the nature of the site, but this is an excellent event for a group seeking something different, something that evokes both an intellectual and an emotional response. Check out tudorworld.com for booking information.