Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper Murders (Genesian) – theatre review

Those familiar with Batman will know that he had a good working relationship with Commissioner Gordon of the Gotham City Police Department. A fictional character aiding a law enforcement agency. In the 1890’s, the fictional superhero is Sherlock Holmes, a private detective with uncanny investigative skills. And the law enforcement agency is the London Metropolitan Police with the chief player being Assistant Commissioner Sir Robert Anderson. However, the relationship between Holmes and Anderson is not so friendly.

Photo: Craig O’Regan

In Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper Murders, the East End is in fear of a series of grisly murders taking place. Sherlock Holmes (John Willis-Richards) has a reputation for crime solving using observation and deduction as his modus operandi. In a meeting with Sir Robert Anderson (James Charles), Holmes is told in no uncertain terms not to get involved in the Whitechapel murders and to keep his nose out of Police business. That is a red rag to a bull for Holmes and, with the help of his trusted good friend Dr John Watson (Peter David Allison), they set about to narrow down the possible murderer(s).

Each murder is getting more gruesome than the last and they each exhibit a degree of brutality which suggest they are the work of a skilled physician. This brings Holmes in contact with Sir William Gull (David Stewart-Hunter), an esteemed surgeon known for his penchant for performing frontal lobotomies. A handy skill if you were wanting to silence a witness. Sir William counts among his acquaintances the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury (Warren Paul Glover), members of the Royal family and influential figures in the Freemasons. He also has a peculiar coach driver and assistant named John Netley (Matthew Carufel).

So, Holmes and Watson, good chaps that they are, have a stack of suspects and leads to follow. In the pursuit of righteousness, Holmes declares “Justice, the eternal cleanser”. It’s a gripping story with plenty of drama and intrigue. Watson and the housekeeper Mrs Hudson (Sandra Bass) provide some welcome light humour. Just as well because details of the murders are no laughing matter.

This is a well-crafted play. Directed by Jess Davis, who uses all available production tools to full measure. First there is the fine script from writer Brian Clemens. He keeps to topic and there are no unnecessary diversions from the plot. The cast is terrific. The lead actors infuse their own personalities into their characters so the dialogue flows without effort. The remaining cast of Peter Bertoni, Douglas Spafford, Celeste Loyzaga and Heaven-Cheyenne Campbell provide great support playing multiple roles. The set (Bronte Barnicoat) is cleverly designed with detailed realism. The Whitechapel Lane serves well for many of the darker scenes whilst a raised rear section is the living room of Sherlock Holmes. Costumes (Peter Henson), lighting and sound effects (Michael Schell) were exemplary.

Photo: Craig O’Regan

As one would expect with a story about the ‘Ripper murders’, there are some graphic word pictures painted about the nature of some killings. If you’re squeamish, go prepared or cover your ears. It’s an interesting challenge to involve fictional characters in a historical event with real-life people. Even though today the murders have never been solved, the work of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson is entertaining to watch. Even Batman would have had trouble with this case.

Sherlock Holmes and the Ripper Murders is a macabre story wonderfully told by The Genesian Theatre group. It’s on at the Genesian Theatre, 420 Kent Street, Sydney until 15 June 2019.  Bookings: www.genesiantheatre.com.au

Paul Kiely
For more of Paul Kiely’s writings on theatre, check out Absolute Theatre

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