"The legend stalks the stage"
by Peter Carrington for remotegoat on 11/11/10

So many of the facts about the Ripper murders have already been said that it is difficult to offer something new about them. Alan Moore's superb From Hell had the definitive word and though it might have inspired many more to look into the case the facts have been repeated so many times it seemed an insurmountable task for Spontaneous Productions to achieve more than a grim retelling. But they do achieve more, though, like a naked blade, it does not always slice cleanly.

To begin with we must mention Jack himself. Keith Chanter cuts an impressive figure. He towers over the rest of the cast and asks booming questions to the audience about the murders with a voice like mulled wine. He asks the audience to consider what he was rather than who. Keith Chanter is the legend of Jack given form, a stalking cipher of dread but one the writers do not overuse.

Having established that the central figure is not the focus of proceedings it falls to the five victims to relate the story and be the focus. These 'roses' are portrayed well, with each characterised as individuals rather than simply waiting for the knife to fall. As each falls, they take on the other principal roles of the time, offering wider insight that helps ground the play.

Sara Mason as Polly Ann Nicholls is the first victim left to haunt the stage, drifting into the supporting roles one after the other with expert skill. Annie Aldington as Annie Chapman is masterful in all her roles within the play, it is easy to see why she has worked on so many radio plays. Samantha Smith is perfectly cast as Liz Stride, slipping between accents seamlessly. Rebecca Livermore conveys the tortured Kate Eddowes without pretention; her screams reminding us that this is not a simple repetition of the facts, this is cold murder. It is the understated performance of Laoisha O'Callaghan as Mary Jane Kelly that solidifies this group of very different women together in one tale. Together they show how each of these women were ignored or mistreated in life, only to become remembered in death and the tragedy that is.

The production is well considered on each level. The costumes are understated but emotive, each woman having a different coloured shawl, from the dark, haunted black of Kate Eddowes to the deep red of Mary Kelly; an ever-present reminder of her fate. The lighting is minimal and not overused, it guides the audience around the stage with beams and within such a dark stage the sound unnerves the audience.

John Kaufman and Martin Stiff know it is difficult to offer new insight into a 120 year old murder case and had they approached it from familiar angles their play might have been blunted. Indeed it is in some respects, others having covered various angles before. But in the Roses of Whitechapel the tale is retold with the incidental details and the legacy of the murders as a focus rather than the mystery. As a result new things can be learned, the tragedy rediscovered and not lost in the blood, though that shall ever be at the forefront of the tale.

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