Bristol's Badass Burlesque Show
Former London Dungeon actor and current Burlesque Performer and Producer with a flair for historical gore, Lilly Laudanum takes us down the dark alleys of London’s Whitechapel where every shadow might conceal Jack the Ripper crouching in anticipation.
It’s 1am, the early hours of September 30 1888. Louis Diemshutz is returning from a days hawking cheap jewellery with his horse and cart. It’s dark, only the gas lights on the street cast a shadowy light into Dutfield’s Yard. His horse shies and refuses to walk on, so Louis gets down, unable to examine the bundle on the floor that has stopped the horse, he strikes a match and in front of him is the body of Elizabeth Stride, Long Liz, her throat freshly slit but the rest of her in tact, as if the mutilation had been interrupted. Had Louis looked up he might have been staring into the eyes of Jack The Ripper himself…
Oooh, it’s been ages since I’ve recalled that particular monologue from my London Dungeon days! I used to love creating the atmosphere, encouraging the audience to move closer, whispering and pausing for drama before another actor shouted “murder” from the Mitre Square set and we pushed the audience into there, to discover the mutilated ‘body’ of Catherine Eddowes, the fourth of Jack’s killings, and the second on the evening dubbed the “double event”.
I’ve always been interested in the dark and macabre, and working at the London Dungeon only fuelled my interest, particularly in the Jack The Ripper case (and actors around that time will probably remember our ‘Ripper-obics‘ warm ups!). Whenever I’m in London, I’m always drawn to the East End, to the areas around Brick Lane, Spitalfields, Whitechapel and Bishopsgate. I find that whole area fascinating and love trying to imagine how, what is now something of a ‘designer’ district was once one of the poorest areas in London, attracting dark dealings, shady characters, prostitutes touting for their two-penneth to get a bed in the doss house for the night, and the gentry who would visit the area and come out with their obligatory dose of Syphilis. But that ‘Autumn of terror’ 125 years ago changed everything.
The Jack The Ripper case is an interesting one as there are so many theories, so many reasons and so many suspects. The more you look into it, the more jumps out at you to support whichever suspect. There’s the grapes the women were given (grapes 125 years ago were something of an expensive treat), the ‘FM’ scrawled in blood on the wall behind the last victim Mary Jane Kelly (the only victim to be mutilated indoors), the cryptic ‘The Jewes are the men that will not be blamed for nothing’ written on the wall by Catherine Eddowes, the arrangement of artefacts around Annie Chapman’s body (pennies, a comb, a piece of torn envelope with the initials JM amongst other things) and of course the many letters claiming to be from Jack The Ripper, the most famous of all the Dear Boss letter claiming to have eaten the kidney of one of the victims and another threatening to ‘clip the [next] lady’s ears off just for jolly’.
With this fascination into Victorian slum land and possibly an over the top obsession into the Jack crimes, my Dungeon days live on through my ‘Dark Annie’s Danse Macabre’ act. Although gristly, it’s comedy burlesque and one of my oldest acts, but funnily enough no photos or video of the act exist! I love doing it as it combines some of the clues (if you are in the audience you are likely to be hit by grapes, witness a kidney and see the ‘letter addressed from Hell’) and I get to wear the costume I made when I started at The London Dungeon (1997!). Although times were hard for the people of Whitechapel (I mean, who could imagine not being able to earn enough money for a doss house ‘bed’ (box) for a night and having to wear all the clothes you had just so no one else would pinch them?), there was a great deal of spirit… The pubs, including the Frying Pan inn and the Ten Bells were lively, sing-a-long places, where gin, brewed in a bathtub, was a penny a pint.
On that note, I’ll be raising my pint of gin in respect of the ladies who died 125 years ago. Do I know who the killer is? Well, that would be telling…
Be sure to check out Lilly’s Ripper-Obics to get you in shape!