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Jack: A Ripper's Tale
Published on Sunday, 26 August 2012
3

3 stars

Paradise in The Vault (venue website)
Theatre
21-27 Aug, 10:00pm-11:00pm
Reviewed by Will Howard

 Recommended for age 14+ only.

I really wanted Jack: a Ripper’s Tale to succeed. It would be such a quintessentially Fringe experience – to be entertained and engaged by a retelling of one of the most horrifying crime stories the world has ever known.  I was also hoping that I could finally find a properly scary production in this year’s Fringe. So was it everything I’d hoped for? Well… half of it was.

Half of Jack: a Rippers Tale is a genuinely effective horror piece, with creative staging and a creeping sense of dread permeating it. The other half is a bawdy, crude comedy concerning the lives of East London prostitutes in the Victorian era. Both are good on their own, but do they mix? Not by any stretch. The scares cheapen the comedy, and the comedy just seems off when coming after scenes of brutal murder.

That’s not to say there aren’t two very good plays in here. The murder scenes are effective, and the comedy is pretty darn good as well, with four well-defined characters batting sharp insults and wince-inducing innuendos off each other. The title is something of a misnomer, as The Ripper himself is not a main character, or really a character in any sense. He’s more a chilling presence that falls over the production – making his entrance shrouded in darkness and then exiting – leaving the other characters to show the audience just what he’s done.

Instead, the play concerns itself with The Ripper’s first three victims (Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman and Elizabeth Stride) who, according to the play, were all close friends. The characters are completed by the presence of Bill, a wheeler-dealer type coming across like Dickens’ Artful Dodger after he’s lost his innocence, who acts as the narrator for the show.

I can’t stress this enough, these are two good plays. One a harrowing and effective horror show, and the other a riotous comedy. But to put them together is like splicing Saw with When Harry Met Sally; it just feels jarring from start to finish. It’s a crying shame, as most of the show is very well thought out. The staging, three arches that the actors move around, is inspired, as is the use of lighting.

But I can’t bring myself to call this any more than good. What could have been something very special indeed has blown up in its creator’s face. With so many Fringe shows sharing a similar aesthetic, it might have been a risk worth taking – but Jack: a Rippers Tale couldn’t find a way of making both the scares and the laughs work together.

<< The House of Shadows   Vikki Stone: Hot Mess >>

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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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