In a previous article I covered the story of the various waxworks that, even whilst the Whitechapel murders were bringing terror and panic to London, were thrilling visitors with crude depictions of the crime scenes and the victims. If you missed the article you can read it here.
Whilst trawling the Victorian newspapers recently I uncovered a review in The Era, dated Saturday the 7th of September 1889, of a play that had recently opened in Paris, which purported to reveal the true motive behind the Jack the Ripper crimes.
What is interesting about the article is that it goes into a great deal of detail about the play and, as a consequence, we can almost take our seats amongst the Parisian audience as the curtain rises for a performance of Jack L’eventreur.
So, if you’re sitting comfortably:-
THE ERA REVIEW
PARIS, THURSDAY, SEPT. 5.
“When French playwrights tackle an English theme the result of the lucubrations never fails to be amusing to a British spectator, and, its horrible subject notwithstanding, the tale of Jack the Ripper’s atrocities is no exception to the rule.
The drama contains such droll caricatures of English manners and customs, such wonderful specimen of English habiliment, that its farcical qualities are no to be gainsaid.
A TISSUE OF TRASH
I should advise nobody to see the piece, quite the reverse, for it is a tissue of trash from one end to the other.
But if any native of Perfidious Albion wanders into the Chateau-d’Eau theatre one of these evenings he will certainly find more food for laughter than for tears.
The attention with which the large popular audience endeavour to follow the impossible incidents of the entangled plot is another curious feature to be observed, for in no other European capital, I verily believe, could such a gullible public be brought together.
If the authors have not pierced the mystery which underlies the crimes perpetrated by the Whitechapel fiend, they have succeeded at any rate in concocting a regular bloody-head and rawbones play for the delectation of the Château-d’Eau gallery.
By scraping together odds and ends from various sources, and cementing those familiar materials with an abundance of more or less pathetic situations that are equally trite, they build up a dramatic scaffolding which stands pretty well on end.
Their melodrama resembles a host of others of the same quality, and, to judge by the enthusiasm of the “gods,” contains a considerable amount of interest for a section of the Paris public which is thoroughly “transpontine,” although it lives at this side of the Seine bridges.
JACK THE RIPPER IN THE FLESH
Spectators who are more critical, or whose tastes are less truculent, will not look back with any pleasure to this vision of Jack the Ripper in the flesh.
To do them justice, however, MM. Marot and Pericaud have invented an ingenious fiction to explain the motive of the Ripper’s atrocities.
JACKSON BY NAME
He, that is to say the hero of the piece, Jackson by name, has determined to discover whence the police derived the information which has led to the capture of so many of his gang during a very short period. For he is the leader of a vast confederacy of crime, and within a month a score of his subordinates have dangled from the gallows.
Poor London !
A capital execution every other morning shows up its boasted civilisation in the proper light to gratify French jealousy.
KIDNAPS THE NEW YORK POLICE CHIEF
No sooner has Jackson resolved to find out the secret than an opportunity offers itself to his audacity.
The chief of the New York police, Peters Wild, is crossing the Atlantic, having come to study the organisation of the English force.
Jackson meets this very clear-sighted officer on his arrival; hoodwinks him so cleverly that he allows himself to be kidnapped; and while the Yankee is kept in temporary durance by the villain’s confederates, our daring hero simply dons his clothes, makes up his face to imitate Brother Jonathan’s, puts Wild’s credentials in his pocket, and boldly sets out for the head office of the metropolitan police.
Needless to say he is received there with profound respect, and immediately ushered into the presence of the Chief Commissioner, whom the authors have knighted.
THE POLICE COMMISSIONER
Sir Stevens welcomes his American colleague with more than necessary British stiffness, it seems to me, and the pair scrutinise each other silently for a full minute. After this awkward pause, the pretended Peter Wild coughs loudly – to keep up his courage, most probably – then plunges into the object of his visit, compliments Sir Stevens on the admirable organisation of his department, and requests the fullest details possible as to his system of information.
Having shrugged his shoulders modestly, and bowed his acknowledgements in a singular British fashion, the Chief Commissioner suddenly thaws. “Times is money,” he says (he pronounces timms), “and neither of us has any to lose. I have no secret to keep from you; my method is very simple; it is founded on the clever French adage, Cherchez la femme, and never fails. The malefactors of London being all at the mercy of their female associates, I suborn the latter, and they tell me everything I wish to know. Some of those women are waiting to be interrogated. So let us call them in, and you will see how admirably my plan works.”
A couple of those petticoated spies enter, are briefly questioned by Sir Stevens, reveal nothing of any importance, and Jackson ascertains that his comrades had all been betrayed in this way. He, therefore, vows vengeance against womankind in general, and, without taking leave of the communicative commissioner, skedaddles from the metropolitan police-office to start on his career of retaliation.
Scarcely has he left when Peters Wild appears, and Sir Stevens discovers that he has been imposed upon, a revelation that sends him into a towering rage.
A MURDERED WOMAN
His passion has not subsided when he receives news of Jack the Ripper’s doings; he has murdered a woman, and sends a little note to Sir Stevens thanking him for the information he had given him, and promising to keep the police busy for some time to come.
Such is the explanation vouchsafed by MM. Marot and Pericaud of the motives which prompted the Whitechapel crimes.
A HEARTENDING STORY
The other incidents of their bloodstained drama are, as I have said, in the ordinary vein of such pieces, and scarcely call for recital. They are singularly complicated into the bargain, Jack’s atrocities being mixed up with a heartrending story of the abduction of a girl of good family from her parents – a crime in which the hero has an interest, for its victim has become his mistress.
During his visit to Sir Stevens he has obtained some enlightenment on the subject, for the police are endeavouring to trace the poor girl’s whereabouts, but the final act must be reached before this second mystery can be cleared up.
A DRUNKEN HARPY
Suffice it to say that a horrible drunken harpy called Blackhorn, whose baby son had been kidnapped, revenges herself by stealing the infant daughter of Sir James Plack, a distinguished baronet who bears a striking resemblance to Aminadab Sleek in manner, and costume.
Poor Ketty grows up among thieves, and falls deeply in love with Jackson, who gives her to understand that he is an Irish patriot (!) hunted by the police.
To rescue this poor girl from Mrs Blackhorn, who maltreats her abominably, he takes her under his protection, and she is known to his gang as the “Little Virgin” on account of her sweet disposition and innocent appearance.
Mrs Blackhorn continues to follow up both Ketty and Jack, without ever suspecting that the latter is her long-lost son.
When she at last discovers the truth it is too late; she has betrayed him to Sir Stevens.
THE HANGMAN’S TAVERN
We first make Ketty’s acquaintance, and that of Jack’s gang, in a low public house, the “hangman’s tavern,” where that functionary delivers a jocose lecture on his art, giving his hearers information which may he useful to them regarding the best manner of comforting themselves when they are ultimately “turned off.”
His speech is warmly applauded, and he stands glasses round with generous condescension.
On his departure Jack appears, informs his “pals” as to the treachery of their female acquaintances, and immediately afterwards settles the account of a girl who boasts that she has sent her lover to the gallows.
Her murder is not committed on the stage, but her dead body is duly paraded.
I may as well state here that during the five acts the Ripper’s victims amount to eight, three of them being executed coram populu.
We are spared any semblance of mutilation, however, and Jack merely cuts their throats, in deference, most probably, to the behests of the censorship.
JACK THE RIPPER’S REVENGE
One day Ketty, who had never suspected her lover’s infamy, is at her window when he murders a woman beneath it, and she overhears him call out, “Go tell Stevens that this is Jack the Ripper’s revenge.”
The poor girl runs away from the house, wanders through the streets, and, by a coincidence that is as inexplicable as most of the incidents of this drama, enters her father’s house, where she is tenderly nursed by her sister, although her family are not yet aware that they have discovered their lost treasure.
A newsboy crying “Another murder by Jack the Ripper” removes all doubt from her mind, and she goes out of her senses.
She does not denounce the wretch, however, until, her own identity being established, her filial love – which invariably has the upper hand at the Chateau-d’Eau – overcomes her scruples.
Jack is trapped, surrounded, and, after a desperate struggle, is shot down like a dog.
OTHER JACKS WILL RISE
In a dying speech he declares that other Jacks will arise to avenge him, and carry on the war against society, a “sentiment” which brings down the curtain amid loud applause.
There is no lack of incident in this murderous play, but it lacks cohesion, and its only originality lies in its title.
The interpretation of two or three roles is tolerably good, M. Dalmy, who has had a long experience in the personification of melodramatic traitors, being quite equal to Jack’s villainy while Madame Dugueret throws great energy into a part which bears a strong family likeness to that of La Sachette, in Notre-Dame de Paris. M. Rablet also displays much cleverness in a comic role, that of a London street arab, who is one of the best-sketched figures on MM. Marot and Pericaud’s too crowded canvas.
The other members of the cast are quite unknown, and will probably remain so”