Yours Truly

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

30/09/2011 - 22/10/2011

Production Details


The Rebel Alliance, the company that brought you Standstill (‘An instant contemporary classic’ – Theatrescenes), Grace   (‘Artistic excellence’ – Theatreview), The Orderly (‘Solo theatre as it should be’ – Capital Times) and A Night of French Mayhem (‘Bold and innovative’- NZ Herald) is back! On September 29 the rebels unleash Jack the Ripper onto Auckland audiences in Albert Belz’s Yours Truly. The show headlines the 2011 Basement Fest.

In 2006 Albert Belz gothic horror Yours Truly became a sensation at Wellington’s BATS Theatre. It sold out in no time, had the critics raving and subsequently did a clean sweep at the Chapman Tripp theatre awards winning ‘Most Original Production’, ‘Production of the Year’ and ‘Best new New Zealand work’. But then, like Jack the Ripper himself, Yours Truly disappeared out of the spotlight and seemed to fade into theatrical oblivion… Until now. In 2009 a fortuitous encounter between The Rebel Alliance’s producer and director Anders Falstie and actor and producer Sam Snedden set wheels in motion.

Set in 1888 during Jack the Ripper’s ‘Autumn of Terror’ Yours Truly is a dark piece of forbidden love, betrayal and mans yearning for immortality. A young gentleman falls in love with the wrong girl and suddenly finds himself and his best friend, the artist Sickert, sucked into a maelstrom of violence and betrayal. Unwittingly they have unleashed Jack the Ripper. Obsessed with creating a masterpiece, the killer uses London as his canvas and paints in blood.

Freemasons, lesbian lovers, oija boards, Victorian surgeries, Yours Truly could easily have ended up as a sordid piece of pulp fiction but thanks to Albert Belz’s soaring writing the play becomes much more than that. Yours Truly is a heartbreaking and sinisterly poetic exploration of some of the darkest and most basic human instincts. 

“Belz wields his pen with surgical skill and precision” – Capital Times 

David Aston stars in Yours Truly as the Queen’s personal physician Dr. Gull. You may have seen him as Neo’s boss in the first Matrix film or in numerous productions by The Silo or ATC (most recently in Mary Stuart). Aston is without a doubt one of New Zealand’s finest stage actors. 

Sam Snedden (who also co-produces) portrays the artist Sickert and he performs alongside his real life partner Andi Crown as Harvey, the best friend/occasional lover of Marie Kelly, the last victim of Jack the Ripper. Kelly will be portrayed by Dena Kennedy. Todd Emerson is the young gentleman, carrying a big secret, who finds himself in way over his head and Sophie Henderson is the girl who is so unfortunate to fall in love with the wrong man. 

Anders Falstie directs and he is joined by lighting designer Bonnie Burrill, costume designer Estelle MacDonald, sound designer Sean Lynch and set designer Jessica Verryt. Sean Lynch was responsible for the incredible soundscape in Kirk Torrance’s Flintlock Musket and most recently Silo Theatre’s I Love You Bro.  Jessika Verryt has quickly proven herself to be one of the most exciting up and coming designers in Auckland. Her most recent work includes Young and Hungry. 

Yours Truly also marks a very special point in the history of The Rebel Alliance. For the first time they have received a grant from Creative New Zealand towards a production. It was The Rebel Alliance’s 10th application over 5 years that finally convinced /persuaded /overpowered Creative New Zealand to show them the money.

Says director and producer Anders Falstie “It has taken 5 productions, 3 tours to Wellington and 12 seasons in total to get to this point. I have been applying to CNZ twice a year for 5 years and was actually getting quite used to my twice yearly rejection and ensuing self-questioning of what I was doing with my life. So when the letter arrived and it read differently the previous 9 I must admit I was a little bit shocked. It’s thrilling but also daunting to have received the CNZ grant. With great money comes great responsibility… so we better f#^¤ing deliver!” 

Anders Falstie has directed four of the five previous Rebel Alliance productions. This is his first time he is handling the reigns of a full length, 2 hour, production so to help him navigate the technically complicated productions, Colin McColl, ATC’s artistic director and one of NZs most respected directors will act as his directing mentor. With McColl having his back and a fantastic cast of some of Auckland’s most talented young actors spearheaded by a stage veteran, Yours Truly has the potential to the knock the theatrical ball out of the park when it opens at The Basement on September 29. 

Yours Truly has received funding from Creative New Zealand and is part of the inaugural Basement Fest.

“A company to watch”NZ Herald

Venue:  Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland CBD 

Dates & Times:
29 September – 22 October 2011

Prices*: $30 Full, $25 Concession   
* Booking fees may apply 
Book Now   

Walter Sickert Sam Snedden
Marie Kelly
Dena Kennedy
Todd Emerson
Annie Crook
Sophie Henderson
Dr. Gull
David Aston
Andi Crown

Set Designer
Jessika Verryt
Lighting Designer
Bonnie Burrill
Costume Designer
Estelle Macdonald
Sound Designer
Sean Lynch
Production Manager
Jamie Blackburn
Props Maker
Pip Smith
Sound & Lighting Operator
Bex Isemonger
Elephant Publicity
Directing Mentor
Colin McColl
Graphic Designer
Paul Everett from Concrete 

Victorian contradictions evoked with skilful stylistic shifts

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 03rd Oct 2011

Playwright Albert Belz has earned considerable acclaim for his treatment of Maori subjects but his re-telling of the Jack the Ripper story seems to be making a statement about the perils of pigeon-holing writers according to their ethnicity.

By appropriating a quintessentially English tale Belz demonstrates the imaginative reach of writing in an age of global inter-connectedness and challenges the finger-wagging assumption that New Zealanders, and more especially Maori, ought to be giving voice to experiences of their own people.

In a similar vein the production by local company The Rebel Alliance avoids any reference to New Zealand and could easily be mistaken for the work of an international touring company. [More
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Riveting evening of originality, theatricality and entertainment

Review by Adey Ramsel 01st Oct 2011

I’ve had Albert Belz’s script of Yours Truly on the shelf for a number of years. That I never got round to reading it is unforgivable, that I never got round to thinking about producing it is obvious, but it goes to show how many mini classics of theatre lie on book shelves forgotten or ignored. 

I can’t resist the pun here but Yours Truly is a ripper. 

Albert Belz’s script tells the tale of Jack the Ripper, he of Victorian London, who stalked Whitechapel killing prostitutes in a macabre and ritualistic fashion. Belz subscribes to the most accepted version of events (as the actual proving of the Ripper’s identity has never been fully revealed to the majority’s satisfaction), and neatly entwines his fictional ‘but based on fact’ love story version. 

I will endeavour to review this play without revealing who the Ripper is. Not that this is a whodunit by any stretch of the imagination but the unravelling narrative is part of the joy of watching this solid and gripping production. 

It did cross my mind, pre-show, that maybe there were one too many Ripper stories out there, though a stage version I had not witnessed. My companion last night recounted a story that he’d worked on the musical version many years ago at a time when the UK’s ‘Yorkshire Ripper’, Peter Sutcliffe, was at large. There are always stalkers, rapists and serial killers around to enable us to see the relevance in history plays such as this. Each villain has their own reason and our Jack in residence at The Basement shares the most common with those down the ages – that of doing one’s duty, of serving a higher being, but then a deeper sense of delusion, certainly that of grandeur, takes over and the initial reasoning loses its way to a pre-ordained right. 

That the play is full of dreams and desires is evident: each character seems to want to be somewhere or someone else. Whether that other being is richer, lives in a different location or, in one case, is the giver of life and death, is dependant on their circumstances and therefore determines their path through life.

No one exits this play the same as they enter. All are changed and really I’d say none for the better. Belz does gives us a twist ending on fact and leaves us with a ray of hope for one character – but is she better off, or just trudging down the same path but in different circumstances? 

The Basement is perfect for this play. Subtle props and gauze are used very efficiently, not always the case with such a simple set item, and Bonnie Burrill’s lighting design makes this play. She evokes the atmosphere of squalid London, under-lighting the action, throwing a ghoulish glare on all proceedings. Coupled with Sean Lynch’s sound design – both operated by Bex Isemonger – this trio bring so much to this production which would only be half as gripping should they have failed in their duty.

The cast present a clean cut version of London’s population and although it’s nice to see a Victorian period piece presented without each character wrapped in mud and rags as if they had scrambled out of a cartoon caricature of what those on the other side of the world believed that era to be, there still seemed to be a touch of twenty-first century stamped on their image. 

Dena Kennedy as prostitute Marie Kelly and Sophie Henderson as shop girl Annie Crook lead the charge using Belz’s lyrical script to make this play as much about the women as the villain. Dena’s Kelly is thoughtful, deep and emotive, taking full advantage of her character’s layers, seeking corners of the soul. The play belongs to her… 

…and to David Aston as Dr Gull. Chilling, creepy and bordering on hysteria, Aston portrays a man who skilfully manipulates the stage and those around him. He commands the script and takes us in as his audience during a very insightful medical lecture. 

Todd Emerson is nothing short of mesmerising as Eddie. From stutterer to romantic lead to shit-scared mummy’s boy, this, I have to confess, is the first time I have seen Emmerson on stage but I look forward to the next time. Such cliché words as ‘believable’, ‘convincing’, ‘authentic’ and ‘absorbed in his role’ spring to mind but they’re clichés because they mean something. 

The role of Walter Sickert seems slightly underwritten compared to others. Sam Sneddon does his best with artist Sickert but I kept asking myself who was this guy? Why was he entrusted with such an important charge when it seems he wasn’t respected in his own lifestyle? Given the role as presented, I’d have thought Dr Gull would have made mincemeat of Sickert, yet he seems to want to bring him on side. I couldn’t help wondering why Sickert, as he was, wasn’t victim # 1. Should Sickert be older? Maybe I missed something but if so then it’s a shame it remained with me all evening.  

Andi Crown as Harvey uses the few brushstrokes of characterisation she’s given and wields them well. 

And so we come to the Director. Praise has already been heaped on this guy by what I have written above. The Director is where it starts and ends. Anders Falstie-Jensen has made no secret of the fact that he has loved, cuddled and cherished this project for three years. With such a back-story it would be so easy to let the script take over and have complete faith that the love child would speak for itself. No doubt it does and a better script on the subject I doubt you’d find for originality, theatricality and entertainment but Anders has done his job.

Crafting a riveting evening and welding all parts together, the sum of which is a truly enjoyable night out. I’d say to Anders that it has been three years well spent and he should be very happy. He should walk out of The Basement content that he knows theatre and can recognise, produce and direct a show that pleases and provokes thought of the modern day.  
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Michael Wray October 17th, 2011

Fiona - Given that From Hell the film was inspired by the same material that inspired Yours Truly, of course there are similarities. To suggest Yours Truly has copied From Hell, is like complaining that The Carpenters copied The Beatles by recording Please Mr Postman. Just because The Beatles/Johnny Depp are the big names doesn't make their using of material created by others the original source material when others are inspired by the same reference material.

Quickly reading the Wikipedia list of differences between From Hell the film and From Hell the novel clearly suggests Yours Truly's From Hell plot elements have far more in common with the novel than the film.These similarities and difference are what we would expect when both Albert Belz and the film's writers claim inspiration from and have then differently departed from the same novel.

John Smythe October 15th, 2011

When it comes to historical fiction, Fiona, it is inevitable that different versions will have things in common. The same goes for folk stories and fairy tales. The historical facts of the ‘Jack the Ripper’ story are certainly in the public domain and a range of theories as to who did it and why are legitimately up for discussion through literature and drama.

When it comes to copyright the only question is whether the specific form of a dramatisation has been copied without attribution. Albert’s post above makes it clear the script he finished up with is very much his own work. 

Fiona Whittle October 15th, 2011

 Yes there are totally some differences and some characters, like you mentioned J Depp who obviously didnt make it into the play. It would be silly if it was completely copyed, but the scene structure and playout of the rest of the characters is almost exactly the same and all you have to do is watch the film to see there have been some borrowings. Me and my girlfriend just watched it again to make sure we weren't going mad. It is what it is, but shouldn't the writer be a little bit more honest about it?? And yes the very same characters get lobotomized in the film as in the play. Like i said, im a bit of a hen at this and havnt seen a huge amount of theatre, but i thought what was important was creating original work not just building on top of someone elses? You should go watch "from hell".

Albert Belz October 15th, 2011

 Other than being 'slightly' insulted that my work has been compared to the utter bovine excrement that was the "From Hell" movie, I'm happy to address Fiona's concern. So for the record here's the down-low.

Other than our antagonist and some of the theory utilised - see below: I would strongly suggest that the only 'real' commonality the two have are the outcome for our heroine in the last scene. I would also suggest that this was two writers, myself and the movie writer, searching for a more uplifting end to the whole mess (I'm a sucker for happy endings, as is hollywood). For the record, I knew what my ending was going to be before seeing the flick which came out about a year and a half (give or take a few months) after my first terrible draft. So yeah, in terms of antagonist of course the two (my play and the flick) have their similarities. 

As the writer I have been very open about the fact that the play is based on two theories mashed together, jumbled about, thrown in the air and scrambled some more (and have said as much in various radio interviews and the like) these being the royal conspiracy theory by Stephen Knight from his documentation in "Jack the Ripper the Final Solution", and the Sickert theory by Patricia Cornwell in her documentation "Jack the Ripper - Portrait of a Killer". From Hell the film is based on a graphic novel of the same name which also shares the royal conspiracy theory. I was introduced to the royal conspiracy theory through my love of Alan Moore's work (the writer of the graphic novel). His graphic novel drew me to Knight's theory. Having read Knight's Theory, I knew would make a great yarn so attempted a horrible 1st draft based solely on this Royal conspiracy theory.

Even after this early draft I knew it was missing a character that the audience could follow, as well as a half decent through-story for said character. Then Cornwell's book was released and added the Sickert factor. Bingo! Here was our missing character/ link to the audience. My research was extensive for 
this particular play and I waded through a bunch of books including the two I've already mentioned. Some of those referenced in the play include (I hope you'll excuse that I can't remember off the top of my head some of the authors):

Jack the Ripper A-Z
The News From Whitchapel - JTR in the Daily Telegraph
The Complete JTR by Donald Rumblelow
JTR and Victorian London
The Online Casebook of JTR
Jack the Myth by AP Wolf

Anyhoots, once I'd finished the 4th-6th drafts I was sure, as I think anybody who has read either of the theories, scene the film, graphic novel etc, that my work was (other than subject matter - Jack the Ripper) very different, and stands alone from what has come before. 

I would strongly recommend that people should go and see the play which is still running and make up there own minds. It's running at the Basement theatre on the corner of Mayorl Drive and Grays Ave, Auckland till the 22nd of this month (Oct) $35 or $25 concession.

Once again, thanks for the opportunity to respond and I hope this answers any concerns.

John Smythe October 15th, 2011

 In my review of the 2006 premiere of Yours Truly I wrote (in part):

I’m no ‘Ripperologist’ but as I understand it Belz has subscribed to the same theory, of whodunit and why, that Alan More and Eddie Campbell explored in the graphic novel From Hell, made into a movie of the same name (in 2001, starring Johnny Depp as an opium-assisted clairvoyant detective). Historians discredit the accusation because at the time of the Whitechapel murders the man in question was in his 70s and had suffered a stroke that rendered him incapable of the physical dexterity required to commit the crimes.

“This might matter if exposing the murderer was the point of the play, but it’s not. What’s important is that we recognise the social, political, economic, psychological and spiritual circumstances and belief systems that conspire to produce such atrocities. And we do.”

Given the Depp character (Frederick Abberline) is absent from the stage play line-up, along with many other characters, it never occurred to me that Belz had purloined the dramaturgy and I still doubt he has. Perhaps someone familiar with the film could let us know if the scene I describe under ‘spoiler warning’ is in the film – and/or the graphic novel. 

Fiona Whittle October 15th, 2011

I was a bit confused and thought that maybe it was just an adaptation, but then saw that it had won best new New Zealand script?? The writers obviously very talented, but still I think given how much of the film "From Hell" has ended up in the play it should at the least say “inspired by” or something on the marketing material. Am I wrong? I'm not the most theater savvy person, but the second half of the play was almost a scene by scene copy… also this is not a gripe at the production as  the actors and director/designer etc were exceptional. 

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