Riffing on the legend of Jack the Ripper, Gathering Jack was a modern, Liverpool-flavoured update of the ‘prostitutes being murdered’ theme, pulled off with imagination and wit by the new Burjesta Theatre company.

Staged in the back room at The Casa, a venue that rarely helped the cast and crew, with its flourescent-lit, whirring bar in the corner and a cramped stage with one exit, the story is updated to modern-day Liverpool and centres around a homeless shelter that looks after Liverpool’s unfortunates; the side you don’t see in the tourism brochures, as one of the players puts it.

The action concludes on Valentine’s evening and the play makes frequent reference to the annual love-fest, particularly in the accompanying music and Gathering Jack’s signature theme tune.

The limitations of the venue were counterbalanced by some imaginative and creepy uses of music and some scenes played out in silhouette – and the cast gave it their all.

Carl John as the eccentric but ostensibly kindly Edward and murderous alter ego Gathering Jack was particularly sinister, but showed some well-judged comic timing. Rebecca Riley as the doomed Geraldine threw herself into it too and was particularly convincing – her death scene actually quite shocking and moving.

But this was clearly a joint effort, with all the cast doing their bit. The narrative drove things along at a good pace and made inventive use of some of Liverpool’s spookier locations, showed the right amount of comic asides and generally made sense, perhaps barring the unlikely predilection of the victims to go out for lonely walks in the fog with a serial killer on the loose – and a rather confused denouement.

It was occasionally rough around the edges, but Gathering Jack was an enjoyable and spirited production by Burjesta and, while the venue brought its own challenges it also brought a convivial atmosphere to proceedings – pints being supped and curry being eaten as the mayhem played out on stage.

The highlights of the production, and John’s reedy but fine tenor voice crooning Jack’s calling card, stayed with us on the walk home.

Gathering Jack plays at the Lantern Theatre and Williamson Tunnels over the next fortnight. Check out Burjesta Theatre‘s website for details.

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