Tag Archives: Jack The Ripper

A Ripping Time


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.


Gore Blimey!

Studio Theatre, Derby, Thursday 26th July 2012

Fascination with Britain’s most notorious serial killer endures because of the mystery that surrounds him. Jack the Ripper was never identified, let alone caught, and this is what keeps him alive in the popular imagination.
Different Device Theatre Company, comprised of graduates of the University of Derby’s drama course, add an extra layer of mystery to their production exploring the legend: none of the available publicity material reveals the names of those responsible. Actors, director, designer, writer – all are unknown to me. This is a pity. I would like to name and praise the individuals concerned.

A three-hander, the play recreates in one act the brutal murders – each one is staged differently. In between we get a kind of black comedy as the two girls and one boy represent foul-mouthed cackling prostitutes (or “bangtails”) around whom the web of fear is gradually tightening. We meet “Mary” and “Annie” and “Liz” – this latter is played by the lad who also acts as chirpy narrator-figure “Bill”. All three of them represent other characters and build up an impression of life on the streets through raucous voices and filthy talk. I particularly liked “Mary” when she portrayed a rough-as-fuck landlady spurning a bangtail who hadn’t the thruppence to pay her doss. No, I’m not sure what that means.

The simple set – three portable archways – is put to effective use to redefine the space. Simple theatrical devices are brought into play: dumb show, shadow play, masks… the company’s bag of tricks comprises of these tried and tested techniques, hardly cutting edge (hah!) but proving that they still work if handled with flair.

A very enjoyable hour, like a Victorian Berkoff in tone, but it could perhaps have done with a bit more blood.