RIP**** (King’s Head Theatre, 1 July 2013)

Posted: July 2, 2013 in Theatre

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews: http://www.thepublicreviews.com

The King’s Head has gained a recent reputation for scaling down major operas to fit into its small space and it now plays home to this new work which could hardly be scaled down any more than it already is. Played on a bare stage, often littered with corpses, and accompanied by just a piano and improvised percussion, it is a minimalist musical, but it showcases some very promising emerging talent. The subject is the murderous rampage of Jack the Ripper, focussing not on the killer but on his five victims. Two pathologists discuss the gory details of the mutilation of each woman as she stands centre stage and recounts her personal story in words and in song. The most obvious musical influence is Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, particularly in the grizzly lyrics of Bones in which the pathologists lead the company, but there are also distinct touches of early Lionel Bart throughout. The overall tone is even more sombre than Sweeney, as is appropriate with the story being drawn from real events. The standard of the music and lyrics is surprisingly high and a uniformly excellent company, in which the two writers themselves appear, does full justice to all of the songs. In the ballad One in a Million, Gemma Brodrick sings of the man she loved and lost; Emma Hook gives a rousing rendition of the catchy A Lady’s Life; Stephanie De Whalley and Carla Turner duet in perfect harmony on the haunting Streetlights; and Sarah Anne Cowell almost stops the show singing the achingly beautiful lullaby Too Alone to her unborn child, building to a crescendo of despair as she realises the hopelessness of its future. In the spectrum of musicals, RIP is about as far removed as it is possible to get from the sort of show designed to pack Drury Lane for a decade. Yet, rated as an hour or so of fringe theatre, it is lovingly crafted, superbly performed and all rather splendid.

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