The Ripper’s Roses

PUBLISHED: 15:07 27 October 2010

The cast of The Roses of Whitechapel

The cast of The Roses of Whitechapel


The Whitechapel Murderer’s victims enjoy the last laugh in a revived play

The ‘ripper’ serial killings which have blighted the county of Suffolk since 2006 were the unusual inspiration to revive a play at Greenwich Playhouse theatre.

The Roses of Whitechapel, completed by Jonathan Kaufman and Martin Stiff in 2000, delves into the tragic lives of the victims of London’s Victorian serial-killer, Jack the Ripper. The infamous murderer’s bloody story lives shrouded in mystery as nobody knew his identity.

However it was the events surrounding the far less mysterious killings of the ‘Suffolk Strangler’ Steve Wright – a former landlord at The Rose and Crown in Plumstead, and The White Horse, in Red Hill, Chislehurst – that prompted a revival of the play in Greenwich this November.

“I would not like people to think we were cashing in on it,” explained Kaufman, Spontaneous Productions’ creative director. “But it’s probably inspired us to think that this is the right time to revive it.

“When we did our reading about Jack the Ripper, we found that most books on the subject focused on the identity of the Ripper.

“Newspapers reporting on the killings were just starting to sensationalize news and most coverage focused away from the victims. We see the same issues in how these murders are reported arise today. We wanted to redress the balance.”

Kaufman found it strange that whilst there was a wealth of information about the victims of the Ripper, also known as The Whitechapel Murderer, few people have wanted to write about them. Instead, the guessing game attached to the Ripper’s identity has always been the greatest draw.

The writer himself thinks it unlikely the Ripper was a member of the aristocracy or even the Royal family, as some have suggested, though he notes the killer had a very good understanding of anatomy.

“The Ripper’s last victim, a young Irish woman named Mary Jane Kelly, was literally taken to pieces in her own home by her killer. Body parts were found scattered and burnt all over the place,” said Kaufman. “I can see why people might say he was a surgeon, but I think it more likely he was a butcher. The fact that he got so close to his victims suggests he was probably a working class guy, a nobody you would not look twice at in the street.”

Newspapers of the era became embroiled in speculation over the killer’s identity, purportedly receiving letters from the killer himself – hundreds were eventually sent to the press and police.

They wished to reveal all the lurid details of the killings, yet they were restrained by Victorian values which prevented them from even reporting that the Ripper’s victims were prostitutes.

“The victims were alluded to as unfortunate or fallen,” said Kaufman, whose last play, The Three Musketeers, went down a storm with reviewers. “Even though there were tens of thousands of prostitutes in London at the time, they were generally referred to coldly.”

The Roses of Whitechapel, which was first staged at the Brockley Jack in 2000, is instead a story of female empowerment. The well-documented lives of the women who fell foul of the ‘Leather Apron’ are considered in unusual detail.

The cast of professional actors includes Laoishya O’Callaghan, a star of the soap Fair City, the Dublin equivalent of EastEnders. The Irish actress came to London especially to play the part of Mary Jane Kelly, said Kaufman, as she feels such an affinity with the character.

The five actresses playing the Ripper’s victims are complete characters, but as they are slain by the eerie murderer they become ghosts, able to narrate and report on the continuing story with the benefit of hindsight.

“There is a positive ending,” added Kaufman. “It is the victims who finally turn the tables of Jack in this story.”

● The Roses of Whitechapel visits Greenwich Playhouse between November 2 and 7. It then moves to the Lion and Unicorn Theatre, Kentish Town. For Greenwich Playhouse tickets priced £12, call the box office on 020 8858 9256.

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