Whitechapel: Suspects, Lunatics and a Leather Apron
I was once taken out to dinner at a well-known restaurant in London. The menu was a work of art with each item described in gushing, descriptive prose going into minute detail about the ingredients and the way it was cooked. By the time I had finished reading it, my taste buds were tingling and my mouth watering just the thought of what I was about to receive. Unfortunately, when the food arrived it just couldn’t live up to the hype and in the end, I felt a little disappointed.
That’s exactly the feeling I had last night when I walked out into the still warm, late evening air having spent ninety minutes or so in Victorian Whitechapel trying to find Jack The Ripper in Apocalypse Events immersive theatrical experience Whitechapel – Suspects, Lunatics and a Leather Apron. The attention to detail before the event was superb. There were emails asking people to wear white, precise details on finding the venue (which turned out to be an empty office block near Whitehall tube) and a guide – which is where the hype went too far. We were told there would be smoke effects, low ceilings, small claustrophobic spaces, and strobe lighting may be used. It also said, “Please note that infrared sounds are used and these are designed to cause feelings of anxiety”! We even had to sign a waiver that indemnified the production company part of which said that if you frightened easily, that you entered at your own risk. So, my taste buds were tingling and my mouth watering at the thought of having to face some anxiety and possibly be scared out of my wits – but unfortunately nothing like that happened.
It turned out that wearing white meant we were to be role playing as part of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee and others were either part of the H-Division police force or an impoverished citizen of Whitechapel. I wasn’t wearing white so was given a white bandage-like wrist band although this wasn’t referred to again. We were led around as part of the WVC (basically a vigilante group) protesting the police who had failed to solve some murders of local prostitutes – looking for clues to find out who was carrying out these gruesome killings. Basically, we were searching for Jack The Ripper although the killer was never referred to by that name. We were told to go to various streets, pubs and shops and talk to the locals such as the doctor, prostitutes, the cobbler etc. and see if we could deduce who was carrying out the killings.
I’ve been to several site-specific immersive theatrical experiences such as “The Drowned Man”, “139 Copeland Road, (in a condemned house in Peckham) “In The Beginning There Was The End” (in Somerset House) and the one thing that struck me was the minute, almost obsessive attention to detail. Whilst this production had it outside of the space – when I got home last night, I received an email telling me we’d hanged the wrong man – some of that attention to detail was lacking inside the space. The “set” was a bit ramshackle and the effects were just ordinary – just some smoke and slightly repetitive sound effects. At no time did I feel anxious or scared and the only time I jumped was when a loud scream echoed across the space. Had there been another murder? No, it was just two girls who had bumped into each other in the dark! That’s where the hype spoiled it a little for me. If it had been promoted as a role-playing immersive experience, I think I might have enjoyed it a lot more. It was fun role-playing and most of the people attending threw themselves into their parts and it was enjoyable being part of the action.
If you want an entertaining night out and haven’t been to this kind of immersive, role-playing event, then as I said it is good fun if you involve yourself. And without giving too much away, there is a sting in the tale right at the end that did get the adrenalin pumping – I just wish there had been more of it.
Review by Alan Fitter
“On the 29th of September 1888, Scotland Yard received a gruesome letter written in red. “Dear boss,” it began. What followed was a gruesome account of a murderer’s plan. A notorious figure who has never been caught. A figure known only by his signature… “Yours truly, Jack the Ripper.””