Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper Murders

Brian Clemens
Talking Scarlet
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

George Clemens as Holmes, GeorgeTelfor as Watson and Katy Dean as Mary Kelly

This hopelessly convoluted mixture of fact, fantasy, fiction and supposition has Sherlock Holmes investigating the Jack the Ripper murders and attempting to find the killer.

In this play, he is not very successful as several prostitutes meet their end before the great detective uncovers the truth and, more shocking even than the murders, exposes the number of people in high places who are involved, keeping everything quiet for the sake of the Freemason ‘brotherhood’ or the country, or just to keep themselves out of the scandal.

Very few of the historical facts can be verified as there have been so many conflicting stories, but it seems that royalty (the Duke of Clarence) was involved as well as the Prime Minister, the Queen’s physician, and there was indeed a Mary Kelly who had a daughter called Alice but died insane after undergoing experimental surgery. Well that’s one story; another is that she was the Ripper’s last victim and, causing more confusion, another victim, Catherine Eddowes, once gave her name to the police as Mary Kelly.

This, however, is a Murder Mystery, not a history mystery, and specially composed music provides the atmosphere while a set of back projections take us around all the venues necessary for the action. Unfortunately, this set also provides light which results in several corpses being visible in silhouette as they get up and exit the scene. A little London fog could go a long way to resolve this problem.

The writer’s son, Samuel Clemens, plays Sherlock and in Patrick Kearns's production he has become a bland, boring character, well overshadowed by George Telfer’s Dr Watson who has a nice line in petulance when feeling he has been ignored or left out of the investigation. Telfer also enunciates clearly and precisely without losing any of the character.

Greg Fitch’s Blind Match Seller injects a little comedy into the proceedings and an artist’s gory paintings suggest that he knows more than it seems, while Michael Kirk’s coachman, Netley, gets creepier by the minute having introduced himself in the beginning as ‘Jack the Lad’ and brandished a knife to the accompaniment of a discordant screech and a flash.

Netley is coachman to Andrew Paul’s Sir William Gull, Queen Victoria’s physician, Governor of Guy’s Hospital and once thought to be the murderer when the Masonic / Royal conspiracy theory was suggested.

Many of the cast double up, and Kim Taylforth does sterling work as Mrs Hudson (terrible wig) and the insane Mary Kelly.

Clemens has taken his inspiration from various sources, but the clairvoyant Kate Mead (Lara Lemon) seems to have been brought in just for a little light relief and Holmes falls in love and marries her.

The best and funniest line has been saved to the end when the newly married couple are looking forward to spending their honeymoon at the Reichenbach Falls. Say no more.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor