Yours Truly

BATS Theatre, Wellington

28/09/2006 - 14/10/2006

Production Details

By Albert Belz
Directed by David O’Donnell

“One day men will look back and say I gave birth to the twentieth century” – Jack The Ripper, 1888

Acclaimed young playwright, Albert Belz (Te Maunga, Awhi Tapu) returns to the Wellington theatre scene with the New Zealand premiere of his new play, Yours Truly.

Set in Victorian London 1888 during Jack the Ripper’s ‘Autumn of Terror’ – Yours Truly is a Gothic love story of betrayal, sacrifice, power and of man’s desire for immortality.  When a Prince of England falls in love, the gates of Hell are flung open and the Devil stalks the streets of London, killing and viciously mutilating women.  Only the artist Walter Sickert can stop The Ripper, but in order to do so, he must sacrifice the woman he loves and open himself to the Devil in order to defeat him ….

This exciting new play brings horror and the macabre back to the theatre, wrapped in a web of intrigue, romance and mystery.  Chapman Tripp award winning director David O’Donnell has brought together a dynamic cast and crew to bring this story to life.

Come and see the true story of Jack the Ripper ……

By arrangement with Playmarket
Yours Truly at Bats Theatre, Kent Tce
September 28th – October 14th   
Bookings 802 4175
Show times: 6.30pm Mon – Wed, 8pm Thurs – Sat
Ticket prices $20 Full, $14 Concession.

James Ashcroft (Sorry I'm Out But I Can be Booked)
Nick Blake (Buller's Birds)
Serena Cotton (The Insiders Guide to Love)
Erina Daniels (And What Remains)
Holly Shanahan (The Cherry Orchard
Robert Tripe (Death of a Salesman)

Set and lighting - Martyn Roberts
Sound - Stephen Gallagher
Costume - Zoe Fox

Theatre ,

What a Ripper

Review by Lynn Freeman 12th Oct 2006

Albert Belz wields his pen with the same surgical skill and precision as his protagonist, Jack the Ripper, in this revisiting of one of the great unsolved murder mysteries.

It’s subtitled the True Story of Jack the Ripper – maybe, maybe not, but it’s a cracking good yarn, told, directed and performed expertly. It’s a psychological drama rather than a bloodbath and is more disturbing and scary for it.

Theories about the Ripper’s identity and motive abound. Belz has chosen one of the conspiracy theories involving the Royal Family. But each person who gets caught up in the net, deliberately or by accident, has their own motivations and weaknesses which lead them to extreme actions, or unforgivable inaction.

Belz has fashioned two love stories from what we only think of as a serial killer’s tale and that gives the production real depth. He also writes dialogue beautifully, making the script a gift for this terrific cast.

"Women are the most dangerous of all God’s creations," intones the zealot surgeon Sir William Gull, made genuinely terrifying by Nick Blake. Holly Shannahan excels as the enchanting and wilful Marie Kelly, the prostitute trying to survive in a brutal time and place. James Ashcroft is absolutely convincing as Walter Sickert, who, like his lover Marie, is forced to risk everything.

Serena Cotton’s Annie Crook is a delight but we really get to see her acting skills when Annie’s mind is taken from her. Robert Tripe is a delightfully dandyish Eddy while Erina Daniels is a sympathetic Harvey, another prostitute, although the character feels underwritten compared to the others.

David O’Donnell reinforces his reputation as one of the most daring directors in the capital, keeping the intensity building over the two hours plus of the play, using a split set and bed on wheels to keep the action flowing.

Through his evocative lighting and simple set design, Martyn Roberts has transformed the tiny Bats stage into the seedy streets of London, with Steve Gallagher’s sound mix setting just the right tone. Zoë Fox’s costumes work a treat too.

Warning – you may want to sleep with the light on after seeing this production.


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Ripping tale of love and murder

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 02nd Oct 2006

Having previously written about small town New Zealand, kiwi  playwright Albert Belz now turns his attention to a much bigger canvass off shore, that of Victorian London in 1888 when, during what is known as the "Autumn of Terror"  5 prostitutes were murdered by a person, or persons, known as Jack the Ripper. 

Who this Jack was has never been proven, and over the years countless theories have arisen as to the motives and identity of this killer, many implicating the Royal family of the time and the Freemasons.  It is these two elements of this well known story that Belz cleverly and insightfully weaves his story, focusing on the humanity of the people involved as much as the why and how of the story. 

Through the fog and gloom of Martyn Roberts wonderfully evocative set, as real as a Hammer horror film, the characters emerge to tell their story, as much through feelings and emotions as through Belz’s terse and apposite dialogue. 

The theory on which Belz bases his play is that Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert – Eddy, (Robert Tripe) had an affair with a common shop girl Annie Crook (Serena Cotton) and married her in secret in the presence of his friend Walter Sickert, (James Ashcroft), an artist, and his girl friend Marie Kelly, (Holly Shanahan), a prostitute. 

Eddy and Annie had a child and Marie became its nanny.  She then told three of her friends, also prostitutes, who all threatened to go public with the story.  Queen Victoria found out and had her physician, Sir William Gull, (Nick Blake), a deranged misogynist, and a Freemason, incarcerate Annie in a mental asylum.  Gull is then purported to have taken it upon himself to obliterate the nanny Marie and her prostitute friends, using the rituals of Freemasonry to rid society of such evil types, this in Whitechapel at the same time as Jack the Rippers reign of terror thus posing the question of whether or not Gull was in fact the ripper.  

However it is on the relationships of Eddy and his commoner wife Annie and Walter Sickert and his prostitute girlfriend Marie that Berlz focuses the plays attention, two love story’s that show these characters as ordinary real people trying to deal with situations way beyond their control.  At the same time the rantings of the sadistic and ghoulish Gull, brilliantly play by Blake, create a much bigger picture of the attitudes of the time, especially towards women, and how large institutions, especially the medical fraternity and Freemasonry, played such an important part in shaping society. 

Expertly brought to life by director David O’Donnell who over comes the episodic nature of the play’s structure to provide a free flowing visually stunning production. It is as gripping as the many movies made of the same subject, his stellar cast performing with confidence and creating many tense harrowing moments, as well as heartfelt poignant ones, in what is a must see production.


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Albert the Gripper

Review by John Smythe 30th Sep 2006

I have to confess I approached Yours Truly with some trepidation. Did the world really need yet another dramatisation of the Jack The Ripper mystery? While the moral rectitude of Victorian England might have encouraged a flipside of prurient fascination with such lurid crimes, what does the ‘penny dreadful’ mentality have to offer live theatre in the 21st Century?

Our commercial news and entertainment media are awash with violence, daily feeding our seemingly insatiable appetites. What used to be extraordinary is ordinary now, and there’s nothing exotic about it. Is this what ‘Jack’ meant when he wrote, in 1888, "One day men will look back and say I gave birth to the twentieth century"?

These, then, were my somewhat subconscious concerns and if you share them, fear not. In a great night of gripping theatre, Albert Belz’s new play transcends its subject matter to prove that the more things change the more they stay the same. Violence, blood and gore are not the means by which we get our jollies.

Not that Yours Truly shies away from such realities, when the time comes. The fear factor is also visceral in this tight-as-a-drum world premiere, superbly directed by David O’Donnell. But the primary focus is on the all-too-human needs, desires, fears, dreams and delusions that make such scenarios possible; on behaviours immediately recognisable in today’s world.

The fear-based demonisation of women (witness the Exclusive Brethren and the relentless, Young Nats-inspired attacks on Helen Clark in letters to editors), gays (witness the Presbyterian Church, Destiny Church and the EBs again) and prostitution (DC, EBs) have all featured in our current news. Fundamentalist religions impact our daily lives as manic-obsessive believers impose their distorted interpretations of ‘God’s will’ through often lethal behaviour … And of course the ‘laissez faire’ economic policies that drove women to prostitution in 19th century Britain now drive the global economy under the guise of ‘the free market’.

It’s all there in Belz’s play. That’s what creeps me out, way beyond the gory particulars of The Ripper story. But of course it is the inescapable credibility given to what is necessarily a fictionalised account of the real ‘Ripper’ events that makes the play and production work as a microcosm of the insidious forces that continue to afflict so-called humanity.

Martyn Roberts’ capacity to create infinite blackness within the physical intimacy of BATS is especially effective in his simple setting of diagonal arches, curtains and minimal furniture. He illuminates and/or shades the action with great selectivity.

Stephen Gallagher’s sometimes harsh, sometimes haunting sound design adds great depth to the evocation of dark forces in dark places. The costumes, designed by Zoe Fox, speak volumes without once looking like a museum display or fashion parade.

As embodied by an ideal cast – I was going to say they’re "to die for" but that would be in bad taste – the sextet of characters inhabit the story with total conviction.

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.

That said, classic whodunit elements are subtly infused to inform the dramatic structure. The three men Beltz has employed to people his play – an artist, a prince and a doctor – are all real-life suspects according to various theories. More importantly, they are conduits for key aspects of the society that renders the three women – two prostitutes and a shop girl – victims of forces way beyond their control. In an age where ‘victim’ has become a pejorative term ("we are all authors of our own destinies; get over it and on with it …") it is well worth reminding ourselves how utter disempowerment can be.

With no historical evidence – that I could find, anyway – but to excellent dramatic effect, Beltz has cast the artist Walter Sickert (James Aschcroft), a painter of nude women among other things, as the reluctant minder of stuttering ‘Eddy’ (Robert Tripe), who is actually the Queen Victoria’s dim but kindly grandson, Prince Albert Victor Duke of Clarence, second in line for the throne.

Given to visiting a ‘club’ that caters for wealthy homosexuals – "a dandy man’s brothel" according to Walter, who doesn’t suffer fools gladly regardless of their class and breeding. It’s Eddy’s sweet tooth that finds him attracted to the shy vivacity and humour – "toffee for a toff?" – of the shop girl, Annie Crook (Serena Cotton).

Meanwhile Sir William Gull (Nick Blake), pre-Freudian "doctor of the mind" and sometime Physician to the Queen, is being inducted into a Masonic lodge. His distinctly paranoid tendencies are mostly evident at the delusion of grandeur end of the spectrum, with the persecution aspect yet to reveal itself under the guise of ritual cleansing.

The play’s central relationship grows between Walter and volatile Whitechapel prostitute Mary Kelly (Holly Shanahan), who poses for him and soon gets under his skin. She does remain her own mistress, however, not least by sustaining a close relationship with fellow street girl Harvey (Erina Daniels). But it is Annie’s pregnancy, to Eddy, and the potential scandal and disgrace, that is the catalyst for what is to follow.

Blessed with roles that take them through every emotion, and expose the vulnerabilities beneath their tough exteriors as their circumstances change, Shanahan and Ashcroft excel as Mary and Walter. Their intimate moments, laced with the French phrases ‘Marie’ hopes will help to elevate her socially, are especially touching. Likewise the scenes between Mary and Harvey ground the play in an earthy humanity.

In delightful contrast, ‘Eddy’ and Annie bond in the realm of naïve love. Tripe and Cotton compel our belief in their relatively pure innocence amid the surrounding sleaze and degradation. But the purity Sir William seeks, in Blake’s powerfully focused performance, is altogether more dangerous.

(Spoiler warning – you may wish skip the next two pars, if you plan to see the play.)
An especially memorable, if deeply disturbing, scene is worth recording as but one example of the assured dramaturgy of this production. Having honoured the Queen’s desire to make the scandal disappear, by surgically removing Annie’s memory and her wits along with it, Sir Walter approaches her in silent menace, removing his clothes … only to curl up in a foetal bundle in her arms and make her stroke his head.

While history records that Mary Jane (Marie Jeanette) Kelly was the last of the Ripper’s victims (murdered 9/11/1888), Beltz offers a happy ending of sorts by allowing Harvey to be mistaken for Mary. Thus reprieved, the character we have invested more in escapes to France. Perhaps this cautionary tail is designed to prove the value of not succumbing to fear. (End of spoiler.)

With Yours Truly Albert Beltz has certainly succeeded in his stated aim of breaking free of the ‘Māori playwright’ label. While he may well be exploring other dimensions of his cultural heritage he has, with this play, distilled an essence of (in)humanity that resonates around the globe and through all of recorded time (witness the recent Rome miniseries).

Once more, through the special alchemy David O’Donnell seems to bring to each production he directs, serious magic is happening at BATS. Much more than just a ripping yarn, Yours Truly is not to be missed.


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