Kings Head, London
Written by Sonnie Beckett
Music by Sonnie Beckett and Joe Morrow
Directed by Hannah Kaye
As a new musical about Jack The Ripper, RIP sets out to be an intelligent take on an horrific chapter in London's history. Whilst it certainly is a meticulously researched and carefully crafted piece of theatre, as musical theatre horror it remains very much a work in progress.
Written by Sonnie Beckett with music co written by Beckett and Joe Morrow, both talented individuals who perform in the show interchangeably dropping out to play the piano as required, the show has a noble premise at its core. Beckett seeks to explore the back stories of the five women murdered by the Ripper, with each victim's story being told in turn. A noble aim, but a structure nonetheless that through no fault of the generally good, albeit unexceptional actors, has become tedious and predictable by the time we get to victim #4. Thankfully, Sarah Anne Cowell who plays Mary Jane Kelly the fifth unfortunate murdered woman, is an exceptionally talented performer and her beautifully Welsh sounding tones provide the one true soaring moment of the show. It should be noted that the troupe's close harmony work is sweetly performed throughout, although both lyrics and melodies are all too easily forgettable. For a show that this reviewer sincerely wanted to love, the production was informative and educational but not very entertaining.
Whilst the programme cover, possibly gratuitously, evokes horrific gore there is not a drop of stage blood to be found inside the house and that is a disappointment. A show about the Ripper needs at least a soupcon of blood and guts to scare the audience. When one goes to see Peter Pan, one expects to see on-stage flying, so it is with a show about the fiendish Ripper. Gore should be de-rigeur (even if in subtle moderation) and like the fairground ghost-train, one expects to encounter the odd hide-behind-your-hands moment too. Beckett and Kaye have staged the show such that many blades are flashed, sharpened and glinted under the lights, but this show cries out for the occasional visual effect of a victim dripping Sondheim’s “rubies” of blood. We need to be made to shudder or gasp at the occasional sight of brutal murder, rather than just glancing at the programme cover image of a woman dissecting herself. (Note: An image that is actually out of context with the show and arguably offensive. These poor women did not harm themselves, but were mutilated by a misogynist psychopath. Ergo, change this image for future runs!)
Horrific violence was certainly suggested and mimed in the show, however as this blog has stated previously, portraying horror convincingly on stage is a tough act (see Cross Purpose review) and to portray it via mime is is a very tall order indeed. If the writers were perhaps to collaborate with some of the up and coming Grand-Guignol theatre companies to be found on today's fringe, then there may well be the potential for this work to achieve greater heights, with a cross-sharing of creative skills. A salute nonetheless to Hayley Thompson whose period costume work of tail-coated gentlemen and prostitutes all in petticoats and bloomers was outstanding.
As it stands and judging by the biographies to be found in the programme, RIP is currently little more than a well intentioned Italia Conti school reunion. Beckett and Morrow however need not rip up the good work achieved so far. Rather, they should pare their collaboration down to its bones and seek to develop the fabulous potential that this show has to offer.
Runs until 21 July