REVIEW: The Ripper Files at Chesterfield’s Pomegranate Theatre

Jennifer Biddall in The Ripper Files at the Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield.
Jennifer Biddall in The Ripper Files at the Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield.

“Too much talking”, “diabolical acting” - harsh words from a couple of fellow spectators at the opening night of a macabre drama.

The Ripper Files, at the Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield, this week is a strange beast which divides audience opinion as to its merits.

Stomach-churning descriptions of women being mutilated by Jack the Ripper give it the shock factor. Yet the text is a fine example of how words can paint a powerful picture of horrific crime, without the need for gallons of blood sloshing around the stage.

Amid the horror are flashes of humour, provided by characterisations of ladies of the night, who were the Ripper’s prey, and witnesses ranging from a morose horseman to Irish night-watchman.

David Gilbrook shines in the leading role of Charles Lestrange, an engaging former inspector assigned to the Ripper case who is carving out a living on the lecture circuit. He takes the audience on a lengthy journey through the Ripper’s haunts, sharing a tremendous amount of detail in a performance which barely sees him off stage for a minute.

He’s aided and abetted by two ex-soap opera escapees, Mark Homer (who played Tony Hills in EastEnders) and Jennifer Biddall (Jessica Harris in Hollyoaks). Their main roles are ex-copper and rising star of music hall who are drafted in to help Lestrange depict the killng spree in Victorian London via a series of vignettes. The pair change accents and personality traits at a rapid pace, some characterisations work, others could have done with extra work on them.

The stage is devoid of lavish trappings, enabling the story telling to fire the audience’s imagination with dramatic lighting and sounds of horses’ hooves and pub revelry adding to the experience.

You can judge for yourself whether the production is a clever piece of theatre or a nightmare on Corporation Street where the drama is running at the Pomegranate Theatre until Saturday, September 14.

Written and directed by John Goodrum and revived by Rumpus Theatre Company after its premiere six years ago, the production relocates to Buxton Opera House on September 27 and 28.