Review Roundup: What Did Critics Think of JACK THE RIPPER: THE WOMEN OF WHITECHAPEL at London Coliseum?

By: Apr. 01, 2019

Review Roundup: What Did Critics Think of JACK THE RIPPER: THE WOMEN OF WHITECHAPEL at London Coliseum?

The world premiere of Iain Bell's Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel, following his critically-acclaimed In Parenthesis is playing at the London Coliseum through April 12, 2019.

A disadvantaged group of working-class women are drawn together in their determination to survive the murderous terror that stalks London's Whitechapel in 1888.

Iain Bell's new opera, with a libretto by Emma Jenkins, explores powerful themes of community and women struggling against the odds, posing questions about the hypocritical attitudes of 'respectable' society.

The mythic status of the unidentified serial killer is addressed through a refreshingly modern lens, which speaks to us over a century later.

With vocal and orchestral writing that always packs an emotional punch, Bell's score features music that is mercurial and explosive one moment and heart-wrenchingly beautiful the next.

A world premiere co-produced with Opera North, this production draws on a wealth of singers long associated with ENO.

These include Dame Josephine Barstow, Susan Bullock, Lesley Garrett, Marie McLaughlin, Janis Kelly, Alan Opie and Robert Hayward.

ENO Music Director Martyn Brabbins and Artistic Director Daniel Kramer collaborate on this important commission, which also provides a showcase for the entire ENO ensemble.

For tickets and more information, please visit

Let's see what the critics have to say...

Andrew Clements, The Guardian: The narrative is fragile, and apart from the two central characters, everyone else is a cipher, so that the idea of using celebrated ENO singers in the roles of the other victims - Marie McLaughlin, Janis Kelly, Susan Bullock and Lesley Garrett - as well as Alan Opie as the pathologist and Robert Hayward as the police commissioner, is rather wasted. Bullock, as Elizabeth Stride, has a drunk scene with Nicky Spence's constable, but it seems contrived, a rather desperate attempt at introducing a lighter note into what is inevitably a grim chronicle.

Barry Millington, The Standard: What an inspiration to give leading roles to five stellar female singers of an earlier ENO generation. Josephine Barstow as the doss-house proprietress Maud still displays astonishing vocal control in the upper register, as well as legendary acting skills. Susan Bullock and Lesley Garrett as Liz and Catherine relish the humour of their characters ("God, I love a fireman," intones Bullock drunkenly at the start of Act II, sporting a helmet), while Janis Kelly and Marie McLaughlin as Polly and Annie also bring a lifetime's experience to their parts.

Aliya Al-Hassan, BroadwayWorld: There are some very effective moments, such as the opening to Act II, where a captivating Bullock staggers around the stage singing emphatically about her love for firemen; this morphs into a kind of grotesque, drunken nursery rhyme about the women of the streets being picked off one by one. There is also a powerful, if overlong, finale, aided endlessly by a pulsating performance by Romaniw, as Mary succumbs to her fate.

Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph: There's nothing wrong with their concept: instead of focusing on the whodunit question, the opera addresses the story from the perspective of the last days of the five very poor women who were murdered and disembowelled.

Richard Morrison, The Times: Jack the Ripper appears in the title, but not on stage. It's as if the company wanted to make headlines by picking a lurid subject, but then got squeamish about actually portraying his foul misdeeds. Instead the plot puts the spotlight on five of his victims and the other occupants of the grim dosshouse in which, apparently, they all live. They are, ENO says, "disadvantaged women, drawn together in their determination to survive". Well, that's one way of looking at it. Another is that this is yet another opera in which women, far from being empowered, are beaten up, abused and murdered. And I must say that, in this protracted saga.

David Nice, The Arts Desk: Of her senior companions, only Josephine Barstow overdoes the already melodramatic role of the grandmother whose soaking in vice from an early age has destroyed her moral compass. The top notes are still splendid in a rant which sounds like Vaughan Williams on acid, the middle range a bit swamped. Susan Bullock and Lesley Garrett burst on to the scene as tipsy light relief; their initial duet is about as funny as Claude-Michel Schönberg's dreadful number for the Thénardiers in the musical Les Misérables.(consult Sondheim, please, Iain Bell). But they do it as well as they can, and Bullock (pictured below in the final scene) has perhaps the most consistently successful stretch in the opera at the start of Act Two, one of the few that really makes the flesh creep, when the comedy of her rapture about a strapping fireman is offset by the ballad of "five little trollops" (shame about the "And then there were none" "thriller" aspect of the opera, though). She sounds in perfect voice, as do Kelly and the ever-sympathetic Marie McLaughlin as victims one and two. The quintet for the five main characters is successful, too.

George Hall, The Stage: Bell is an experienced and accomplished composer whose last opera - In Parenthesis - was successfully launched by Welsh National Opera in 2016. Like that piece, his new work demonstrates impeccable technical skills in all facets of operatic composition, though not much of the score strikes home memorably.


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