Saturday, October 19, 2013

Review: The Ripper Files! Key Theatre, Peterborough, 19th October 2013

The marvelously named Rumpus Theatre Company does a splendid job recreating the feel of a turn of century public lecture about those awful Ripper murders of 1888. The speaker is none other than the genial Charles Lestrange, an ex-police inspector who worked on the shocking events in Whitechapel. Part talk, part re-enactment, part music hall performance, this is a rumbustious and highly enjoyable production, which has the audience chuckling, oohing, and literally gasping at the end, with the final clever twist of the knife. 

From clearing his throat, David Gilbrook has the audience in the palm of his hand, as he takes us on detailed tours of the Whitechapel streets at night. Ably backed up by Mark Homer and Jennifer Biddall, Gilbrook puts on a public lecture like no other, bringing to life the characters and events that marked one of the darkest periods in British crime history. Mark Homer plays the many shady suspects with wit and mischief - effortlessly shifting from one to the other with a change of hat, or different stance. Jennifer Biddall, meanwhile, plays a series of brassy street women, like victims Mary Jane Kelly and Annie Chapman, with skill and humour. It is amazing that three people on a near-empty stage can weave a world so convincingly. At times, I could hear the boozy hubbub from the pubs, and footsteps echoing down dark alleyways. Beyond the play's atmospherics and dark humour, however, I was left feeling disturbed that at the height of the British Empire, the poverty in its capital forced thousands of women to engage in such desperate, disease-ridden, dangerous ways to make a living. 
Written and directed by John Goodrum, the play has some clever, post-modern moments, such as when Inspector Lestrange tries his hand at acting, and does rather well at it. The finale is a nice double whammy, which suddenly engages the audience in an unexpected way. 
So, bravo to David Gilbrook, Mark Homer and Jennifer Biddall . . and of course writer and director John Goodrum. The Rumpus Theatre production of The Ripper Files is a darkly comic little masterpiece, which leaves you with a crooked smile on your face. Highly recommended. 

The Ripper Files! can be seen at: 

Thur 24th & Fri 25th October 2013, Civic Theatre, Chelmsford, Essex

Mon 28th &Tue 29th October 2013, The Camberley Theatre, Camberley, Surrey

Tue 5th to Sat 9th November, Devonshire Park Theatre, Compton Street, Eastbourne

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