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The Roses of Whitechapel

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Jonathan Kaufman and Martin Stiff’s play explores the lives of the five women widely accepted as Jack the Ripper’s victims. We are privy to intimate details of their private lives and their deaths as the dead women recount their mutilations as reported in the press.

This is no comfortable evening out, but it is a rewarding and rich portrayal of the way of life of five very different women for whom prostitution was a way of life in a city that was corrupt and uncaring. We learn that, apart from two local girls, the other three came from as far afield as Wolverhampton. Ireland and Sweden: strong accents are to the fore and at times a little overpowering in such a small space, especially in the case of Sara Mason’s larger than life Polly  and Laoisha O’Callaghan’s Mary.

The five women give strong vivid performances and, when the script and director allow, some intensely moving moments: Annie Alderton’s Annie draws our sympathy whilst her powerful portrayals of other characters are a revelation, Samantha Smith’s Swedish girl Liz reveals both the sensual and sensitive side as well as the strong self sufficiency of someone not to be crossed; the scene with Annie, where Samantha plays another local woman in conflict with her, is one of the most riveting in the play, as are many of the duologues. Praise must also go to Rebecca Livermore’s Wolverhampton Kate, the most down to earth, forthright and feisty young lady in the group; she inhabits this wild creature with a demented demeanour that both draws and repels, a remarkable creation.

Relying as it does on the use of monologue for much of the play there are times when the reportage lacks interest when delivered straight, whilst some of the group scenes seem a little flat with the girls sat in a line on a bench at the back of the stage.

Though clearly well researched one wonders if there is not more about their lives that could have been explored here so that they are not merely murder victims with an afterlife, but victims of a society that was clearly divided and divisive; it is clear from some of the comments, especially the resigning police chief, that London was a den of iniquity and these women saw prostitution as their only means of survival.

- Dave Jordan


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