The brutal murder and evisceration of unfortunate, desperate prostitutes is an odd choice of subject for a piece of musical theatre. Do you treat it as light-hearted comedy villainy, or dare to explore the terrifying evil of the human psyche which lurks beneath? It is a problem which Punchline Theatre attempt to resolve in Jack and I, with mixed levels of success.
The first act is firmly comedic; a pseudo-Victorian romp in which busty wenches, hapless officers of the law and oily hacks charge around London in an attempt to catch the naughty murderer without getting carved up themselves. In the second act, the mood darkens; the murders come thick and fast and Chief Inspector Abberline’s obsession with the mysterious killer threatens to engulf him completely. While it is clear that writer Daniel Henry Kaes is trying to manage the dichotomy of the material in a way which is both authentic and crowd-pleasing, this irregularity of tone makes the production feel patchy and uneven. Possibly in an attempt to disguise this problem he also throws the issues of feminism and mental health into the mix; these would be weighty enough topics for even a full-scale West-End production to tackle, and it is impossible for them to be explored adequately or satisfyingly in a short fringe musical such as this.
That said, Jack and I is a very enjoyable production. The script is pacey and witty, and many of the jokes are laugh-out-loud funny. The show is at its best when it is being playfully clever, something it does often and well; a couple of the lower-brow modern cultural references fell rather flat. The songs are well crafted and choreographed and the lighting effects eerily effective. The cast give it their all, both when acting and singing, and appear to be having a marvellous time. Stand-out turns come from Ashley Alymann as charming, devious and opportunistic journalist O’Connor, and Andrea Lily Martin as the pragmatic brothel keeper Madam Jeffries. Most cast members play multiple characters, slipping fluidly between accents and disguises, and the small, dark space beneath the Curtains Up pub, with its intriguingly curtained arch, is used to brilliantly sinister effect.
There were a couple of moments when you couldn’t hear the singing for the music, and the costumes could have been a little tidier and better fitting, but these are minor issues which can easily be resolved with a bit of spit and polish. The talent, inspiration, enthusiasm and comedy brilliance are all there; if Jack and I can just decide what it wants to be, it has the potential to be a truly exceptional production.
Review by Genni Trickett
Jack And I – The Jack The Ripper Musical
The hunt for Jack the Ripper is on! The London première of Punchline Theatre’s smash-hit comedy musical to the Barons Court Theatre this way comes.
1888, and Inspector Abberline is faced with the impossible task of satisfying his boss, the media, the public, his wife and his own peace of mind. And there’s an equally impossible killer on the loose. Most inconvenient. In the depravity of Victorian London, where nothing’s as it seems, how do you find a needle in a haystack?
Please be aware this production uses a smoke machine and occasional strobe lighting.