I am not sure that a “ripping good time” is an accurate description of Doug McLauchlan’s Saucy Jack, a dramatized lecture at Theatre Passe Muraille’s Backspace as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival, whereby McLauchlan, as the famed and mythologized Jack the Ripper, muses about evilness and this one serial killer’s role in shaping the modern era.
Saucy Jack is a well researched performance piece and for those like me, who are ardently interested in the past, in criminology and for whom philosophizing on the state of humanity is considered an enjoyable activity, this production will likely capture your attention and your curiosity. On the other hand, it is not a very theatrical show, so for those of you who think that history lectures are boring; this may be a show for you to skip.
Doug McLauchlan does play Jack the Ripper in this piece, as a pompous, boasting, unrepentant Dickensian narrator. He does not elicit feelings of danger in the audience, despite his reputation, and he recounts, rather than dramatizes, the events of his past, linking them continually to issues both from world history and from our own modern era. He continues to make his case, like a seasoned lawyer before a jury, that he is not the most malevolent devil to walk this Earth. MacLauchlan’s Jack is incredibly well read, and obviously well-versed in all the events leading up to the present moment. He quotes Shakespeare, Auden, Nietzsche and Oppenheimer and makes references to Bill Clinton and Black Hawk Down. The only disquieting thing about this Jack the Ripper is his occasional cold laughter, but even that is not enough to break the very formal and didactic relationship that has been set up between the audience and this infamous killer. We are seated here to learn from him.
The question is: what can Jack the Ripper teach us? It is surely not difficult for Jack to persuade us that the killing of five drunken prostitutes in London in 1888 cannot even be compared to the evilness required to allow the Rwandan genocide to occur in 1994, to mastermind the Holocaust, to perpetuate a cycle of sexual and physical abuse against children within a church, or to send teenage boys to foreign countries to be slaughtered in wars for greed, power and economics. Yet, this Jack makes the point that it was he who first introduced sensationalism to the media, it was he who thrust immorality and the foulest deeds imaginable into the streets of London, when London was the centre of the world, and it was because of him that the world became fascinated with crime, with criminals and with murder- a fascination that is still powerfully present in our media today.
Ultimately Saucy Jack leaves us wondering what our relationship with the mythical Jack the Ripper says about our society and about us as individuals. Like in Marty Chan’s play The Bone House we are forced to examine why we remember the names of those who kill and not the innocents who have lost their lives to violence. For over a century we as a society have chased the legend of Jack the Ripper insuring that even in death, his ability to spin a sensationalist tale lives on. Surely if his deeds were considered inconsequential, the banality of evil, by now history would have erased him from her memory. There are certainly interesting issues raised by McLauchlan within this piece, but it seems a waste that in portraying one of the most mythic and fascinating figures of the Nineteenth Century that he did not create a piece with a feistier imagination.
Saucy Jack plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue) at the following times:
Fri, July 2 3:00 PM
Sat, July 3 8:30 PM
Mon, July 5 4:00 PM
Tue, July 6 5:00 PM
Thu, July 8 2:45 PM
Sat, July 10 6:15 PM
Sun, July 11 5:45 PM
All tickets $10 at the door or book in advance by calling the Fringe Hotline at 416.966.1062 416.966.1062 or online at www.fringetoronto.com.