Live true-crime docudrama puts a human face on the victims while exploring the horrifying facts of history’s most infamous unsolved mystery.
With MysterIan’s Mysterious Mysteries: Jack the Ripper, Immersive Arts Collective takes a step away from its patented form of interactive-immersive theatre toward something slightly more conventional – a one-man show in which the audience sits down instead of following characters around The Count’s Den – but the tone and content are guaranteed to please fans of the group’s previous productions. Presented like a true-crime television documentary, the 75-minute show is a fascinating dive into one of history’s most intriguing unsolved mysteries.
A combination of video and live performance, MysterIan’s Mysterious Mysteries: Jack the Ripper provides an impressive in-depth recitation of facts via its genial host, Mr. Ian (Ian Heath) seen on screen throughout via prerecorded performance. Meanwhile, in person Heath enacts the various scenes for the benefit of the theatre audience, shifting swiftly through a gallery of characters, including victims, witnesses, and Jack the Ripper himself.
The first half of the show, which runs chronologically through the five murders attributed to Jack the Ripper, derives its impact from the contrast between the efficient presentation of facts delivered from the screen and the human faces of the victims (and witnesses) seen live. A large part of the continuing appeal of the Ripper story is the desire to understand and hopefully solve the riddle of the Ripper’s identity; it’s a real-life whodunit, which can sometimes reduce the horrendous crimes to a set of dates and atrocities, devoid of humanity. Here, the victims and witnesses get at least a brief chance to present themselves as human beings, eager to defend or justify themselves as people struggling to eek out a living under difficult circumstances.
The second half of the show is even more intriguing as the Mr. Ian shifts to plumbing the depths of the mystery – which turns out to be a hopeless task, thanks to evidence that is often irrelevant, dubious, or outright fraudulent. The show sifts through the broken fragments, which never fit together into a complete puzzle, and yet the result is still revelatory.
The truth about Jack the Ripper is that he never existed. The Ripper is a mythological construct superimposed upon the crimes committed by the Whitechapel Murderer (as he was known in the press before earning his more famous sobriquet. Our image of the Ripper is derived from a combination of mistaken witnesses, speculation, and outright hoaxes. The image of the elegant villain in evening clothes and cloak, carrying a (possibly medical) bag comes from a witness description of a man cleared by the police. The concept of an evil genius, taunting the police for being unable to catch him, derives from letters sent to newspapers and Scotland Yard – none of which are considered authentic, many of which were clearly written by different people. In fact, the very name “Jack the Ripper” comes from one of these hoaxes.
MysterIan’s Mysterious Mysteries: Jack the Ripper does not go quite so far as we have in asserting that the Ripper is, in essence, fictional, but it does an excellent job of showcasing the erroneous evidence that combined to create this monster in our collective consciousness. In particular, it notes that the “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” letter turned out to have been written by journalists hoping to sell more newspapers.
Equally interesting is an element seldom explored in the many fictionalized versions of the tale told in movies and novels: the layer of antisemitism permeating the evidence. Various witnesses gave a variety of mismatched descriptions of men seen with the murdered prostitutes; whether tall or short, young or old, for some reason almost all of them were described as foreigners – Jews, in particular. Seen through his layer of prejudice, the evidence available to us today is too tainted to provide a reliable solution to the mystery.
If it seems that we are spending more time discussing the evidence than assessing the play, that’s in the nature of the production. MysterIan’s Mysterious Mysteries: Jack the Ripper is essential a true-crime docudrama performed live in-theatre. As such, it does an excellent job – taking a deep dive down a very dark rabbit hole. The mass of information is smoothly synthesized into a succinct presentation; we noted no obvious errors (they would have to be obvious for us to notice them), and we even learned some new details.
The enigma of Jack the Ripper is a fascinating subject for a dramatic presentation, but the potential stumbling block is rehashing old information in order to exploit a horrendous tragedy for entertainment purposes. MysterIan’s Mysterious Mysteries: Jack the Ripper avoids the pitfall completely. It’s an engrossing exploration of a real-life mystery that manages to inform and entertain, presenting the facts while putting a human face on the victims.
MysterIan's Mysterious Mysteries: Jack the Ripper Rating
1 – Avoid
2 – Not recommended but not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
This fascinating deep dive into the details of history’s most infamous real-life mystery manages to inform and entertain, presenting the facts while putting a human face on the victims.
MysterIan’s Mysterious Mysteries: Jack the Ripper continues through May 6 at The Count’s Den, 1039 S Olive Street, Los Angeles, CA 90015. Get more information at thecountsden.com.
Note: This is the first installment in a planned series that will explore other real-life mysteries.