To the skin-crawling sound of a knife being sharpened and scissors flexed, five women beg their post-mortem doctor to find out the identity of their killer. They are the gruesomely dispatched victims of Jack the Ripper.
That's the basic premise of new original musical RIP written and composed by Sonnie Beckett (presumably no relation) and its songs are in the Sondheim mould; dark, full of discordant harmony and several striking images.
On the whole avoiding cliche, songs roam from the romping "Lady's Life" sung by manic Annie Chapman (Emma Hook) to the anatomical "Bones", tearjerker "The Secret" (sung by Sarah Anne Cowell as victim Mary Jane Kelly) and the pathos-fuelled duet of "Streetlights" as two of the girls (played by Stephanie De Walley and Carla Turner) wash themselves before a night touting their wares. The whispering "Rip" is sinister in the extreme and "One in a Million" (sung by Gemma Brodrick as first victim Polly Nichols) is probably the only bland tune of the bunch.
At an hour and ten the drama is saved from being just a songbook showcase by the character of Dr Thomas Bond (played Joe Morrow, also musical director) who the girls demand find their murderer, a mysterious black-dressed woman who claims to hold the answer, and subtle direction from Hannah Kaye.
I'm not entirely convinced by the gesturing black-masked Ripper figure (Peter Lee Harper) but a twist at the end makes it all worth it. And while we don't learn much of Dr Bond and his colleague Dr Bagster Phillips (played by Thomas Deplae, whose surgical instrument percussion neatly underscores the tension) that can be forgiven: this is firmly the tale of the Ripper's victims.
New theatre company Grindstone should be pleased with their gripping, nuanced and exceptionally dark first outing.
- Vicky Ellis