Jack & I
DHK Productions
C Nova, 1st - 25th August @ 21:00:00

Reviewed by Jimmy MacMahon on 4th December 2014.
Jack Is I
It’s every reviewer’s worst nightmare: how do you review a show that deliberately sets out to undermine, not just itself, but the entire genre and everything that has come before it? With their latest show: Jack and I: The Jack the Ripper Musical, DhK Productions have done just that. They are a relatively new company but even at their young age, they are already masters of what they do, and their comedy musicals (or shuld that be parody musicals?) are popular to point of “cult” status. Jack and I tells the story of Inspector Abberline’s (Chris Chalmers) frustrated attempts to catch the notorious Whitechapel murderer, nicknamed Jack the Ripper.

Firstly, a disclaimer. Yes, we at EdCringe were involved with this production. But isn’t that simply a sad indictment on the ludicrous hypocrisy of the importance of reviews at the festival, where anyone can earn rave reviews from some obscure publication (and most do)? The plethora of stars and selected quotes that adorn the really expensive posters for shows, glued all over the city like it’s a cure to Ebola, is a bigger eyesore than the pissed-up student thespians vomiting their not-even-digested sausage rolls into a puddle. By virtue of the sheer volume of reviews that are churned out every day, every show is going to have at least one nugget from a review that they can plaster onto their posters, or shout in my fucking face while I’m trying to cross the street. Not that this review will help anyone either, because the festival ended about four months ago. That reference to Ebola by the way isn’t particularly topical now, nor was it during the Fringe because it hadn’t happened yet, so that’s another reason to discredit this review, and in fact all reviews.

But really, when a show goes out of its way to parody multiple genres at once, whilst at the same time remaining aware of itself as a commodity of these ridiculous genres, should we not just give them the benefit of the doubt? What harm is a stupid little review going to do to a troupe whose egos are so inflated that the good reviews are ignored as standard and the bad ones used as a sign that they are ahead of their time? It’s almost as if they deliberately came to the Fringe, where everything is so expensive that it has its own mansion tax (another brilliant topical reference there), with the idea of making a musical – usually associated with being a lavish, decadent, spectacle – with absolutely the lowest production values possible. A functional-bordering-on-crap set, actors doing their own scene changes, and costumes so tatty that one actor thinks nothing of high-kicking his hat into the audience every night.

Second disclaimer: we all know musical theatre is shit. To paraphrase Stewart Lee, it’s the sort of shit you get when you combine shit music with shit theatre: a compound shit mixture, a shit composite, a kind of sticky shit syrup. Theatre is supposed to be challenging and engaging. Musicals don’t challenge anything beyond its own moral integrity; you have to surrender your judgement to the spectacle and the flashing lights. But the Jack & I team, mercifully, perhaps accidentally, don’t have the budget for this. The show does challenge the way musicals have been done in the past, particularly Les Miserables, whilst there are also references to classic film noir dramas and to Airplane!, underscoring their tongue-in-cheek approach to the past masters of these genres.

What this means is that the focus is pulled onto the actual words and the performances, thankfully, because they are brilliant. Particularly impressive is the way that the cast are able to juggle different types of comedy simultaneously, both committing to and feigning an ironic indifference to the show. Chalmers and his onstage wife Lizzie Camps are tragically believable in depicting the breakdown of their marriage and the man. Sara Basso de Marc is especially delicious in transforming her character from what seems like a cheap writing device (think Tyler Durden meets Drop Dead Fred) to undermine practically everything that happens onstage into something altogether darker, which is pretty much symptomatic of the whole thing. Matt Lim’s comic versatility stitches together the rest of the show with a number of endearing character performances.

It’s no secret that Jack the Ripper was never caught, or even identified, but the play decides to use this as a help rather than a hindrance to its resolution, and the way this uncertainty is structured, hinted at, and played with, is rather genius. Theatrical and comedic brilliance in its purest, most unashamed form. And there you go guys; you can have that for your fucking posters.

For further information about this production and book tickets click here.

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