Jack the Ripper, also known as Leather Apron, murdered at least five prostitutes between 1888 and 1891 and was never identified, let alone brought to justice. His methodology was to slit the unfortunate women’s throats, mutilate their bodies and then, often, remove certain organs. So, is this a documentary?, or perhaps a horror story? No it is a comedy musical. I know that time is a great healer but is this really a suitable subject for comedy?
Every character (bar one) is based on the real people. Inspector Fred Abberline (Saul Boyer) was the prominent figure in the investigation into the killings and then there was his second wife, Emma (Izzy Roy). Sir Charles Warren (Matt Lim) was Chief of Police and Abberline’s senior officer. T. P. O’Conner (Ashley Alymann) was an established Irish journalist and a member of parliament in the House of Commons. His selacious reporting specialised in juicy scandals and “true crime” reports accompanied by dreadfull intimate photographs of the bodies. It is O’Conner who has been credited with fuelling the public interest and gripping the public imagination with regard to the so called Whitechapel Murders. So popular was his salacious reporting that a few years later when, in 1896, Alfred Harmsworth , Lord Northcliffe, launched The Daily Mail his motto was “Get me a murder a day”!
So, you thought that Jack the Ripper was detestable. Well, the highly connected madam, Mary Frances Jefferies (Andria Lily Martin) comes a close second. As well as her daytime job as a madam to the hoipoloi, she was also a white slaver and kidnapper of children, supplying them for sex to those aristocrats with that proclivity. Not quite the jolly lady portrayed here. The one unknown member of Abberline’s group was the new, young, sassy, police assistant, Georgia (Comfort Fabian).
The entire show takes place in Fred Abberline’s front room. The various characters wander in and out, sometimes wearing masks, sometimes bare faced. Parts of the play are easy to follow while other parts are totally incomprehensible. The jokes are funny in a largely, gallows humour way, and none the worse for that. The song lyrics are amusing, though the tunes are instantly forgettable. The show is reminiscent of the 1980 production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, but not quite as good.
I left the theatre totally bewildered. What on earth did the finalé mean? Who was what? What was the point?
An excellent cast with some outstanding voices, and excellent comedy acting. A great sense of humour from everyone. Ultimately I did enjoy the production but, as previously pointed out, I have some severe reservations. A little editing of the story to remove confusion, could work wonders.
Reviewed by Graham Archer
Jack & I: The Jack The Ripper Musical plays at Barons Court Theatre until 1 July 2017