177: Saucy Jack

23 Oct

Saucy Jack is a play about Jack the Ripper that gives voice to his victims and points the finger at royalty. Sharon Pollock wrote this play because Jack the Ripper had had her “by the neck” for a long time.

Saucy Jack

In an introduction to the play Pollock writes:

I’m not particularly interested in the why of the original Ripper murders. I suppose that’s either because it is ultimately unknowable, or because I find it to be thus: the women are killed because they can be killed with relative or complete impunity. It’s done because it can be done.

What interested Pollock was the idea of memory, loyalty and sanity. Jem is a man with a head injury that may have affected his thinking, memory and behaviour. He is also the close friend of Prince Albert Victor, heir to the throne of England, and used to be his tutor when he was at Cambridge. Jem’s loyalty and love for Eddy (as he calls the Prince) goes beyond fealty and into something much darker. He carries blood-stained knives which one or both of them may have used to commit the Ripper murders.

The play begins when he brings an actress to a weekend get-away in Chiswick to provide entertainment for him and Eddy. Perhaps he means to kill her, or maybe she’s there to enact the previous murders for their pleasure.

JEM: It reduces me to rely on the likes of you. I abhor you, you are beneath contempt, had I the strength I’d tilt your head and slit your throat, but I consort with you to save Eddy, it must be done and I must do it. […] But you would know nothing of that, of friendship, love, nothing. You are a dosser, a daughter of joy, you sail along on your bottom and your life is savage and short and so it should be.

Kate, the actress, goes from being powerless to having a voice and refusing to be silenced. While the men appear doomed, she is the only one who might survive. She plays each of the Ripper’s victims, naming them and bringing them briefly to life.

KATE: I’m out for a trade but I stop and listen, and sometimes I dance ’cause I got looong legs and black curly hair and a big fat lip that I say comes from being kicked in the mouth clingin’ to a funnel to save myself when the Princess Alice sunk with the loss a 700 lives! And it’s all a lie. I tell terrible lies! […] What’s the harm? It’s better than truth and what does that tell you about what’s real?

Eddy and Jem’s relationship is the highlight of Saucy Jack. It’s twisted by class, status, education and love. Jem was Eddy’s tutor and mentor but has become unimportant in Eddy’s life as he’s matured.

JEM: Do you love me Eddy?
EDDY: I have a deep affection for you –
JEM: Nooo! Do you still love me! Love me! Don’t talk about that deep affection shit! […] Once you would have answered before the words had left my lips.
(Silence.)
EDDY: (A kind of explanation, or apology.) Mama is deaf. In one ear. That’s a confidence and I charge you with respecting it. I am not deaf in either ear – but sometimes when things around one are not to ones liking, a partial deafness is not a disability …

Publisher: Blizzard Publishing (1994)

Cast: 3M, 1F

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