Despite the show’s title, Shreds isn’t really about the Ripper. His actions are really just the context for the story. Instead, The Unknown Theatre Company present a look at Victorian society where women are not safe walking the streets at night, constantly wrapped around the little fingers of their male counterparts. It is a thought-provoking and well performed piece that mostly achieves what it sets out to do.
Shreds is an inventive showcase that cuts loose and delivers a solid musical based around the crimes of one of history’s most infamous killers. Volatile relationships and compromise map onto the setting of a darkened, dangerous London. The hazy lighting allows the performers to disappear into the fog as they back away off the stage. There is no real set to speak of, yet the story is very evocative of London in the 1880s, making for an absorbing travel back in time.
The play is clever in leading you to believe that several of the male characters could be the murderer. He represents the figment of patriarchy that threatens and oppresses women, the female characters coming across strongly in the face of this threat. The young cast capture this environment with frightening realism, every one of them giving their all as they succumb to the horror show of the Ripper’s crimes.
Said cast, however, often feels far too large for such a small stage, with almost all of the characters regularly on stage. The movement is slick and choreographed but the set can’t help but feel slightly cluttered. A number of the characters, such as the Duke and some of the policemen, feel like they are not really part of the story. Sound effects meant to evoke the London streets also cover up sections of dialogue too much. On the other hand, the singers do well to project their voices above the accompanying piano, every word coming through clearly.
While it is up for debate, you could argue that almost spelling out at the end who the Ripper is undermines the message of the play. The point is it could be anyone, representing the threat to women posed by everyday and institutional misogyny. Nonetheless, this is a strong and interesting story well told by its young cast. It finds a relevance for the modern world, telling its tale with style and imagination. Well worth a look for musical fans.