Ripper** (2 stars)
(Burdall’s Yard, Saturday May 27th)
The idea behind this short 4-piece play by Bath Spa University students, written and directed by Alaina Kear, was a fairly novel one. Their aim was to immerse the audience in 19th century London and the gruesome case of Jack the Ripper in order to give an alternative theory to his hitherto unknown identity, and to do so through the medium of “interactive” theatre. As an avid performer and fan of this style of theatre, the prospect excited me greatly. Unfortunately, I have put quotation marks around the word “interactive” for a very good reason…
The audience in this afternoon’s performance was given no real sense of agency or immersion within the world of the play, precisely because none of the interactive elements had any effect on the play’s narrative. The few bits of audience interaction, in which onlookers were awkwardly asked their opinion or told that they were under arrest, were promptly ignored or forgotten, leading them to become essentially pointless. The young cast performing the play clearly had talent, with Reon Mason in particular shining as the titular Ripper, but as an interactive theatre piece, it failed.
Interactive theatre is hard. I know. The last interactive show I was in took over a year of constant rehearsals, workshopping and endless play-testing before it was ready for the Edinburgh Fringe. And that is precisely the point. Without meticulous preparation, you end up with the results I witnessed this afternoon: a cast of capable actors with creative ideas regressing to moments of strained and stilted performance, uncomfortable pauses and an ever-so-slightly embarrassed audience. Even putting aside the play’s theatrical mode, the preceding problems amount to a firmly underwhelming experience.
The show was hardly devoid of creativity. Moments of vivid imagery were scattered throughout the piece. The strangely beautiful dance between Jack and his lover/victim (the talented Ms Kear) at the tail-end of the play was appropriately haunting. The music, a blend of Victorian and contemporary styles, complimented and heightened key moments of the play. Kieran Lane and Joshua Fancourt must also be commended for the effort and energy they put into their roles.
But with an under-rehearsed piece clocking in at barely 40 minutes, a sparse script that could be summed up in one sentence and a format that involved apathetically shepherding the audience between three equally barren rooms for a large chunk of the run-time, such underlying talent was not given a chance to flourish. The spark is there, but the fire needs fuelling.
** – 2 Stars