Jack The Ripper
16th April 2012
The Bocking Arts Theatre, Braintree
Type of Production
Author: John Warburton
Based on real events of the late 19th Century, the production covers the story of those 70 days in 1888 within which similarly brutal murders of five prostitutes took place in London, since when no definitive conclusion as to the identity of a culprit has been reached, though several strong possibilities are from time to time proposed. Despite the gruesome nature of the content, the story lends itself readily to a music hall style of presentation, very familiar to the period. In this way the overall mood is lightened and the complexity of detailed scene changes avoided, with all the action taking place in a music hall, with its representative staging for varied locations in and around the overcrowded streets of London’s Whitechapel.
The cast of 25 players covered 17 named parts, including the victims, a possible killer, Queen Victoria and the Commissioner of the London police. In addition there were policemen, ‘ladies of the night’ and also, from time to time, members of a Music Hall audience and its Chairman. Thus we had a commentary, touching all quarters of life, on the progress of ‘Jack’ and his victims that shifted in and out of reality to the accompaniment of appropriately attractive, rousing, sombre and melodramatic music, whilst illustrating, often quite graphically, the state and style of the varying, but mostly lower, echelons of society in the Whitechapel streets of Autumn 1888. The start of the performance saw the whole cast enter through the auditorium, making their cheerful and noisy way to the ‘pub’, which, at a stroke awoke the audience to the style to be adopted. Settings were arranged so that ‘pub’ scenes were downstage, with ‘house/street’ scenes, needing fewer players, on a raised dais at the back of the stage. This worked well, but with no personal microphones in use, there was a marked discrepancy in the relative sound levels produced from these two general areas. Within the limited space available in the multi-set approach and with many characters on stage, major movement was limited to the setting of distinct stage pictures designed to illustrate the place and the mood to being portrayed. Costumes and make up were very well aligned with the time, social status and surroundings.
With regard to performance, this is one of those shows where the whole cast is involved for most of the time and the atmosphere created is dependent on all working well together, which they did, though, as often occurs on second night performances, there appeared to be a touch of relaxation e.g.– whilst chorus singing overall was very good there was a distinct hint of uncertainty on some entries in Act I. Solo work was also good, and, importantly in this type of show, where the words of both solo and chorus numbers express actions and feelings, diction was not overridden by the orchestra, which was kept in appropriate check, though this balance was harder to maintain with solo work on the rear dais.
I am reluctant to name names in this report because this really was a good company performance, and so I will do no more that congratulate all who took part both on stage and off in their efforts to offer such an interesting evening. Congratulations to all concerned.