“Sunday afternoon .. put your feet up on the sofa and open the News of the World. What is it that you want to read? Naturally, about a murder.” George Orwell, “Decline of the English Murder,” 1946
During the 1970s, Peter Sutcliffe murdered at least thirteen women and attempted to kill seven others, narrowly evading arrest again and again. The press called him the “Yorkshire Ripper.” Based on historic accounts, police reports and journalism, this new play is an authentic re-enactment of the day to day, five-year police investigation.
1975. With a blast of Shirley & Co’s “Shame, Shame, Shame,” we then hear a recording of a news report about two women, Wilma McCann and Emily Jackson, found stabbed and beaten to death in Leeds.
The back wall of the stage is furnished with hundreds of filing cabinets, looming about 30 feet high behind four desks piled with a clutter of folders and boxes. This is the incident room for half a dozen officers, sergeants and detectives, men and women, in uniform and plainclothes.
In an era before computers and internet, all the clues, leads, interviews and evidence gathered are handwritten on index cards - painstaking, laborious work. It kicks off with a furious flurry of activity, briefings, discussions and decisions as staff rush in and out with choreographic precision. A sharp buzz of a phone ringing and freeze frame pauses denote the passing of time, scene by scene, as the pressure mounts. “We are clutching at straws, waiting for him to kill again.”
As a multi-media production, TV news footage on-screen and actual tape recordings create an intense, realistic atmosphere. Four years on, the investigative officers become stressed out, tempers frayed, everyone submerged under a mountain of paperwork. (No plot spoiler here - just keep your eyes on those filing cabinets.)
This premiere by New Diorama Theatre is artistically designed, slickly directed and astutely performed; the ensemble cast of seven actors is spot on (age, accent, vocal tone, physical manner), with crisp, fast-paced dialogue. An electrifying energy pulsates around the theatre and the audience is absorbed in silence for this 90-minute fly-on-the-wall drama-documentary. As Orwell's essay describes so nostalgically, real-life murder is (still) gripping stuff.
31 July - 26 August @ 16:30
Tickets: £12.50 (£11.50), £13.50 (£12.50), £14.50 (£13.50).
Age guidance: 14+