Review: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper – Hallie Rubenhold

Polly. Annie. Elizabeth. Kate. Mary Jane.

These are the five canonical victims of Jack the Ripper, a Victorian figure whose famously violent legacy still plagues the streets of the Whitechapel district of East London, with walks, fictions, and periodicals dedicated to offences so vicious and folkloric that they and their faceless culprit are the focus of deathly fascination.

The five – Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Kate Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly – were left with a far less illustrious legacy. A footnote to their antagonist, canon-fodder for the anecdote, they were scapegoats, accepted as prostitutes without proof, disfigured, disgraced, displayed as photographs of defaced corpses, and, largely, forgotten from their own stories in favour of the surgical details of their deaths.

Forgotten, that is, until The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper: Continue reading “Review: The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper – Hallie Rubenhold”

Review: Matilda the Musical UK Tour

Original review for the Reviews Hub

Matilda the Musical.jpeg

Mischief, magic, and as much charm as the original tale

‘Just because I find myself in this story, it doesn’t mean that everything is written for me’: ah, the wisdom of children – the whimsical wonder and childlike delight that children can’t wait to outgrow and adults wish for once again is the foundation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s literature. With all of Dahl’s wisdom and a little childlike wonder, Matilda the Musical is Denis Kelly’s delightful adaptation of Dahl’s Matilda, the wisest little worm of all.

A precocious child prodigy flipping through Dickens and Dostoevsky at five years old, Matilda is desperate to grow up and escape from a family – coiffed and vociferous in fantastic performances from Sebastien Torkia and Rebecca Thornhill – that prefer the sedative effects of television to the fanciful dance of their daughter’s fairy tales. Escaping to the autocratic tutelage of Crunchem Hall, Matilda is taught the toughest class of all: even teachers, like Carly Thoms’s ‘pathetic’ and empathetic Miss Honey, can’t escape from ‘fighting the creatures that you have fight each night’, even if they’re all grown up, and particularly if that creature is the terrifying Trunchball. Continue reading “Review: Matilda the Musical UK Tour”

Review: Gecko’s Institute – Bristol Old Vic

Original Review for Broadway World UK

Gecko's Institute

Physical theatre full of aching truth and tactility

Theatre is physical: isolated from its spectacle and pageantry, theatre’s principal narrative tools are physical figures in a physical space, the effect of particular figures on the spaces they occupy and the effect of a space on its occupants. This is the focus of physical theatre aces Gecko Theatre’s Institute, a work that perfectly illustrates with grace, poignancy, and fragility the effect of an institutional space on its occupants.

Artistic Director, deviser, and dancer Amit Lahav envisions an industrial dystopia that crystallises as set designer Rhys Jarman’s greyed and glowering citadel of desks and towering drawers. Alight with Chris Swain’s versatile lighting and singing with Dave Price’s lyrical original score and the electric dissonance of Nathan Johnson’s sound design, it’s a transcendent stage for a set of devised, genre-defying vignettes.

Though the nature of the institute – for sanctuary or incarceration, as a vision of an austere future or a vestige of an afflicted past – is strategically vague, and the narrative structurally nonlinear, the physical and psychological effects that institutionalisation elicits are evocative and visceral. With flashing lights and electronic strikes echoing through the space and inflicting the strict structure and invasive feel of the Institute on the spectator and occupant alike, it’s physical theatre that forces itself to be felt. Continue reading “Review: Gecko’s Institute – Bristol Old Vic”

Review: Historical Fiction – Forgetting & Familiars

The Binding – Bridget Collins

Memories are tough to imagine: meticulous and muscular, fractured and fragile and ephemeral, forgotten and evoked and etched into our character – yet, what if you could extract them, etch them onto a page, and forget your grief, your regrets, or your gravest memories?

This is the tempting yet terrifying premise of The Binding: the tale follows Emmett Farmer as he’s apprenticed to the peculiar art of extracting torturous and disruptive memories from the desperate, the exploited, and the defenceless, transforming them into an attractive volume for a less attractive fee, and leaving the purchaser – or victim – with less of themselves. With memories as fragile and valued as this, what has Emmett forgotten?

Told in three acts from three perspectives – two characters, three moments in time – the novel transforms from the fantastical to the romantic. The private, devious practise is left in the dark after the first act, and Collins devotes more time and poetic writing to painting a detailed, and, at times visceral, portrait of Emmett’s developing affections and their devastating physical and psychological effects. Collins’s prose is rich with detail and description, and though it’s occasionally too decorative to picture, her portrayal of the devilish de Havilland and Emmett’s antediluvian tutor Seredith are adept, true-to-life depictions.

The Familiars – Stacey Halls 

‘Prudence and Justice’: the formal motto of the Shuttleworths – the aristocratic family that young, naïve, and pregnant Fleetwood is married to and mistress of – that forms the firm, unforgiving worldview of the mighty and the magistrates in 1612. Yet, if there was prudence for those on trial for witchcraft at Pendle that same year, there was also prejudice.

Stacey Halls’s historical fiction novel The Familiars follows Fleetwood as her privileged life is laced into the prejudices of the witches’ persecution when her midwife, Alice Grey, is suspected of witchcraft. Dependent on Alice, the wild-eyed druggist she finds wandering in the forest, for her fourth pregnancy to produce a descendant for the Shuttleworths, Fleetwood’s destiny weaves fatefully with Alice’s.

The writing is attractive and addicting, with the depictions of life for Fleetwood pulsing with her desperation not just for Alice’s proficiency in prescriptions but for her friendship, too. With marriages, miscarriages, and a fight against a frighteningly merry magistrate, The Familiars is full of graceful and graphic imagery, from the familiar glimpses of a flaming fox to Fleetwood’s fiery confrontation with Alice’s grimacing father.

Review: Kinky Boots UK Tour

Original review for the Reviews Hub

Kinky Boots UK Tour Bristol

As tough, worthy, and well-tailored as a pair of Price and Sons’ shoes 

‘Trust your feet in Price and Son, our work is tried and true: practical, pragmatical, steadfast, and steady, too’: so echoes the omnipresent theme of Price and Sons shoe factory, yet this musical is as far from practical and pragmatic as the magnificent shoes it manufactures. With music and lyrics from legendary musician Cyndi Lauper and adapted by Harvey Fierstein from the 2005 film, Kinky Boots is a musical with leather, lace, legacy, and hopes as high as its heels.

Charlie Price’s father leaves him with some very large, old-fashioned shoes, and the underperforming, ‘practical, pragmatic, and steadfast’ factory – intimidatingly industrial in David Rockwell’s well-worn, multi-levelled set – to fill. As Lola, a stylish, deliciously witty drag queen, struts into this dated, industrial, dogmatic world, she sets it alight with sequins and dancing, yet is as unsteady as Price and Sons’ outmoded men’s shoes are steady in stilettos not designed for feet of her width or weight. Seeing an opportunity to serve an ‘underserved niche’ in the footwear industry, it’s in a pair of sturdy, outlandishly stylish shoes that an unexpected friendship develops between straitlaced, lost Charlie and extroverted yet equally adrift Lola.

Yet, the soul of the show isn’t in its shoes. Continue reading “Review: Kinky Boots UK Tour”