Monday, 22 October 2012

Jack the Ripper's London - review

Written by: Dombo (@DomOJFryer)

Where's Dom gone? 
London Bridge 
Was Dom fond? 

I'm only scared of one thing: aliens. And I'm not talking new, modern, soft aliens like Optimus Prime, of Transformers fame; I'm talking traditional aliens, like the ones in signs or Star Trek (or Alien). I think its more the shape of their heads or the eyes that get me, rather than the actual concept of being from another planet. So, when I went to see Jack the Ripper's London, as depicted by Crow Theatre, I was prepared for numerous dubious attempts to frighten me by torch light. What awaited me was somewhat different to this.

Jack the Ripper was a notorious individual, infamous for murdering prostitutes in Whitechapel in 1888. He was never caught, as the tour guide reminds you very early on. This piece of promenade theatre takes you through the streets of London Bridge without incident, before an opportunity arises to search a little deeper.

Before the audience can figure out exactly what is going on, they find themselves in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a London of old. We follow the story of Mary Kelly and her final few hours, sharing with her the highs and lows and her love of good gin and fast music. The show culminates with a gruesome (weak stomachs steer clear) murder and the audience being bumped back into reality.

The piece has you on edge throughout the hour, with the tour guide painting a grisly picture of events. The actors also contribute to the tension, knowing the exact moments to take advantage of a highly-strung audience. When we speak of the actors, it can only be in a good light, with every character studied in detail and conveyed accurately and in an emotive fashion. Without being scary themselves, the performers twist circumstances in such a way to leave the audience terrified for the entire second half. The tour guide plays her role perfectly, acting as a medium between the audience and the rest of the action. The elements of audience interaction are incredibly clever and involving, which strengthens the piece further.

The set is a true piece of genius. I have never enjoyed being in a tunnel so much before in my life. Transforming something that is over 200 years old is a hard task, seemingly made simple by the company's creative director. The only evidence of being in 21st century London is the use of stage lights, but so strong is the narrative that you are sufficiently distracted from noticing this.

A slight criticism from a participant's view would be that the narrative, which is exceptional in the latter stages of the piece, is too slow at the beginning - which appears to be mainly down to geography and getting to the scene of the crime, but it was exposed as a weakness when we had someone with a crutch in our party; this slowed proceedings and appears to be an ever present conundrum when it comes to performances of this nature.

All in all, this exceptional piece of promenade theatre has your heart pounding with tense anticipation from start to finish: no mean feat, considering that you're standing throughout. You will learn history and you will learn to be terrified. So then, congratulations Crow Theatre; it's no longer solely aliens that will keep me up at night.

This production runs until 28 October 2012. 

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Anonymous said...

Brilliant review! I know what the play is, what was good, what was bad and even got some personality in there. You even touched on the wider debate of accessibility of theatre! More like this please!

Dombo said...

We really appreciate the comments! I personally aim to be as concise as possible, and I hope you get the chance to see what is a great show!

Keep reading the blog, as there are many talented new writers coming through at the moment.

Thanks again, participation is always highly encouraged!

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