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REVIEW: Sherlock Holmes & the Whitechapel Fiend, Cirencester

Philip Pellew and Joseph Chance <i>(Image: Alex Tabrizi)</i>
Philip Pellew and Joseph Chance (Image: Alex Tabrizi)

Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel Fiend, a new comedy adventure by Toby Hulse and Ross Smith: until March 9

We have Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – who forensically and logically examined everything from spiritualists to fairies – to thank for Sherlock Holmes. And Toby Hulse and Ross Smith to thank for this new comedy, so fun it’s unreal (says fictional Katie Jarvis)

We’re in Whitechapel, the late 1880s, and London is full of dangerous clichés. You can’t swing Dick Whittington’s cat (sorry – wrong era) for fear of walloping a grieving jilted bride trying to find Pip; plus a skinny boy with an unsatisfied appetite for gruel (just wait until he discovers Deliciously Ella puts tahini and pumpkin seeds in hers); or, indeed, people whose ghosts insist on visiting at incredibly busy times of year when the queue for the post office is literally out of the door.

What the Dickens is going on?

Great British Life: Helen Foster, Philip Pellew and Joseph ChanceHelen Foster, Philip Pellew and Joseph Chance (Image: Alex Tabrizi)Worse than that, a monster – going by the name of Jack the Ripper – is on a killing spree.

Luckily, on hand – but more often on foot – is an intrepid band of characters, busy trying to ensure that fiction is stranger than fact and better acted.

These four take it fairly in turns – and foully – to play Sherlock Holmes, the unreal detective determined to solve real problems. Such as: Who is the really fictional Dr Henry (yeah, I know; I’ve introduced him out of the blue), and why does he sinisterly repeat the end of his sentences in such a catchy way?

Such a catchy way.

Great British Life: The Cast of Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel FiendThe Cast of Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel Fiend (Image: Alex Tabrizi)Of course – spoiler alert – here in the 21st century, we know exactly who Jack the Ripper was. Aaron Kosminski, a barber working in the area, eventually committed to an insane asylum after threatening his sister with a knife.

But no such knowledge is available to our four as they scour a more primitive London where Cockneys – without fail – stick their thumbs in their lapels and perambulate solely by means of the Lambeth Walk, a time-consuming strut making kerbs exceptionally difficult to navigate. (They do this absolutely any evening, any day.)

…Or Montague John Druitt, Oxford-educated, found floating in the Thames seven weeks after the Ripper’s last killing.

Readers, even if you have no interest in discovering the real, true and definitely factual identity of Jack the Ripper (Oh! Or merchant sailor and professional psychopath Carl Feigenbaum, working in Whitechapel every date of the Ripper murders. What’s more, German, so not held back by having to do the Lambeth Walk), then go and see this very, very funny play.

Great British Life: The Cast of Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel FiendThe Cast of Sherlock Holmes and the Whitechapel Fiend (Image: Alex Tabrizi)Absolute kudos to Joseph Chance, Helen Foster, Phillip Pellow and Chloe Tannenbaum, who could well have said to brilliant director Adam Meggido, ‘We’re absolutely not doing that’, but didn’t.

Also, get the stage design! A fabulous mix of James Bond and the pipes you don’t normally see in the local sewerage works. Genuinely (fictionally) loved it.

…OR Francis Craig, double-bluffingly victim Mary Jane Kelly’s husband.

This world premiere does complete justice to Toby Hulse and Ross Smith’s hugely fun (and meta; came away realising I was probably a Susan Coolidge character) script.

This is the play that will have Ripperologists, shaking their heads good-naturedly, tearing up their academic theses with an ironic, ‘And to think we ever thought it was artist Walter Richard Sickert [to be fair, nominative determinism loaded the dice], whose DNA was found on some of those original taunting letters!’ Pah. Amateurs.

The Barn Theatre is on Beeches Road, Cirencester, GL7 1BN; 01285 648255;

PS Loved the Ripperologist (can’t remember who) who said, in an interview, words to the effect of: ‘When I get to heaven and they tell me the real name of Jack the Ripper, I bet I go, ‘Who?’’


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