Friday, 3 October 2014

The Wax Princess written by Justin Richards and directed by Lisa Bowerman

What's it about: The past has come back to haunt former chief inspector Abberline - Jack the Ripper has escaped from custody! As the notorious killer strikes again in London, Jago and Litefoot are drawn into a web of intrigue. One that will lead to the palace itself...

Theatrical Fellow: Jago tries to figure out why Abberline needs him on the Ripper case but can't decide between his unparalleled powers of deduction, his near uncanny ability to spot what others miss or how he can piece together the slightest clue and unearth the conclusions that have alluded the greatest minds. It would appear that seven seasons worth of successful investigations has not gone to his head in the slightest, and he had a pretty sense of his own importance before he and Litefoot began their partnership. Litefoot finds it highly amusing that is simply because he talks so much, by far his most prolific quality. He has the gift of making people talk, of being able to take them into his confidence. Very sweetly, he is astonished that Litefoot and Abberline genuinely do think he has something to bring to the investigation. For all his bluster to the contrary, he does lack faith in his own natural abilities.

Posh Professor: Litefoot genuinely thinks that the Ripper, if he was caught, should have been hanged. His crimes were abominable but it is still shocking to hear the gentle Professor calling for the death penalty. An expedition to the mortuary to examine the Ripper's latest victims, quite a feather in Litefoot's cap. Try and hold back the laughter as Litefoot gets the chance to do a blusterous impression of Jago, Trevor Baxter clearly having a whale of a time as he does ('The very model of a Modern Major General!').  Litefoot feels like quite the fool when it appears that he was the one to come in to contact with the Ripper and didn't suspect a thing.

Standout Performance: Watch out for the very cute cameo by Flaminia Cinque as the crone who will get a larger role in the next season box set. I'm not sure about he interpretation of Queen Victoria though. A little too shrill for my liking. 

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Cleared? By the man who let Jack the Ripper fall through his forensic fingers?'
'Jack the Streatham Slasher better watch out!'

Great Ideas: When they are brought to The Red Tavern by Inspector Abberline, Ellie is delighted to see them but then immediately tries to backtrack and make up a faltering cover story that she doesn't know who they are. Abberline is no longer a police officer, he retired some time ago. He has suspected for some time that Jago & Litefoot were innocent of the crime that has forced them to go on the run...but if they lend the man some assistance this is the opportunity to clear their names for good. It wasn't made public at the time but Abberline did catch Jack the Ripper. Mary Kelly is known to his last victim but there was another murder and there was more than enough evidence to make an arrest. The appalling notion that Jack the Ripper has escaped is enough to give you gooseflesh. What a skin-crawling way to kick start a story, a mythological villain that practically everybody who has an interest in Victoriana would have heard of. Two of his latest victims were in the chorus at the New regency Theatre, an establishment well know to Jago & Litefoot. Ellie has gained a lot of confidence thanks to her association with the Professor and the Impresario and is keen to investigate the murders by following her own leads. By all accounts, this self-assured streak will stretch into the next set of stories where Ellie and Quick front a story all of their own. Anyone who doesn't want to be followed must be hiding something. Even on audio the presence of waxworks unnerve, such is the characters reaction to the facsimiles. A waxwork that leaks blood and contains the organs of the Ripper's victims, fashioning a fiancé out of wax. What a grisly notion. A gunshot wound left the Ripper with a permanent limp, an obvious impediment that would reveal his identity should he ever escape. The Ripper plans to murder the Queen and he and his wax Princess will rule in he place. A madly ambitious scheme but hardly a surprise from a man used to creating scandal and drama. Only the newly promoted Inspector Quick could be so understated as to consider saving the Queen's life 'a good day's work...' Are Jago & Litefoot now special investigators to the Queen? I love the fact that Ellie is humble enough to have been a part of the entourage that helped to rescue her Majesty but is willing to go back to clearing tables in The Red Tavern at the end of the adventure.

Audio Landscape: Horse and cart, pub atmosphere, police whistle, screaming in the cells, jangling keys, footsteps on cobbles, dripping water.

Standout Scene: It might be doing the story a disservice to say that the most alarming and delightful scene comes at the climax as an action adventure story turns musical hall horror as the Scorchies come to town! Jago & Litefoot always likes to leave the audience hanging on a cliffhanger but never in my wildest dreams did I suspect that the intergalactic puppets would make the leap from the contemporary world of the Companion Chronicles to the Victorian era of this series. My jaw was hanging. But since I adored the Scorchies in their first outing and have a love of musicals in general, this is a development that has left me foaming at the mouth for the next season. Eight series in and I'm still gagging for more. The song that climaxes this season...was fantastic, as was Jago's reaction to it. 'Scorchies, Scorchies, we are the Scorchies...'

Result: For the most part this is a Victorian drama without any fantasy trappings whatsoever, one which pairs Jago and Litefoot with Abberline and Ellie and sets them after the notorious Jack the Ripper. It is such an obvious idea it is astonishing that it hasn't been tried before now. Obvious it may be but that doesn't stop it from being a highly engaging investigation, intelligently written and with plenty of strong moments for all concerned. I've read every Agatha Christie several times so I like to think I am reasonably adept at sniffing out culprits so I spent most of this story examining every character that I stumbled across. Even Abberline came under my steely gaze. The offenders identity isn't entirely unsurprising but what he has been murdering the women for is highly original, a grisly notion that quite set my teeth on edge. You might have thought that a series set during the Victorian period wouldn't dare to feature the real Jack the Ripper as a character (since it might ruin the mystique around the notorious figure) but then you aren't taking into account the confidence and brio of Jago & Litefoot and its creators. For once the finale isn't a culmination of four stories worth of plot but a standalone adventure, albeit one which climaxes on a dastardly scheme that has been discussed ever since the beginning of the season since it is the very reason that Jago & Litefoot are on the run in the first place. Fast paced with snappy dialogue and a plot that delights right up to its climactic conclusion, Justin Richards has found his niche in Jago & Litefoot and despite being the most prolific writer for the range he has yet to deliver a duffer. The Wax Princess stands proud with The Last Act, The Hourglass Killers and his other formidably titled chronicles: 8/10

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