Jan Van Der Black and Penny Gkritzapi with Polymorph Theatre
In the century that has passed since the bleak murder spree of Jack the Ripper, the fascination with the Whitechapel murders has done little to abate. From that rich topic, Jan van der Black's one-man performance eschews the usual murder mystery aspect to delve into the humanity behind the people involved.
Van Der Black plays John Davis, an unassuming shopkeeper who, having retired to Bournemouth, finds a chest of artifacts and begins to experience blackouts, finding himself waking in strange period garb.
Meanwhile, during these blackouts, his body is being puppeted by the spirit of Frederick Abberline, chief detective behind the Ripper case, desperately seeking his peace. Uniquely, it's not closure in the case he seeks but forgiveness for failing the murdered women.
While the concept and acting in Abberline's Artifact is wholly solid, there are a few decisions which work against the whole. The opening moments feature no fewer than three instances of Davis awaking from his fugue state in panic in a matter of minutes and feel confusing rather than intriguing.
Curiously, the play is a piece of two halves, where Abberline takes up the mantle and the Davis story is all but cast aside. The Abberline story being the more interesting part of it meant that the second half of the performance was by far the better, which begged the question of whether it would have made a more interesting story to have featured more intercutting between the two men's stories.
However, the ongoing narrative is captivating and Van Der Black's emotional and gripping performance holds the audience rapt, despite several sharp and jarring lighting changes and musical cues which don't quite flow into the running narrative.
Nevertheless, this is a heartfelt and fascinating take on a subject usually reserved for grim exploitation and horror.
Reviewer: Graeme Strachan