The Only Girl in the World – Arcola Theatre


I realize there’s not much point in publishing a review of a show that’s only going one more night, as there probably aren’t any tickets available and I’m not going to be able to convince anyone to see the show who hasn’t already chosen to do so. However, it’s a really teeny little show, and it’s a bit of new writing (by Glyn Maxwell), so … let’s give it another bit of energy on the internet.

The Only Girl in the World is the story of the last woman killed by Jack the Ripper. When I took the London Walks Jack the Ripper tour last summer, I found the tale of this Mary Jane Kelly just extremely sad. She had a boyfriend; he, if I’m not mistaken, had just paid to get her out of the workhouse so they could live together; by all accounts they seemed to be trying to crawl their way out of poverty, fingernails against brick. The house they had lived in had been torn down (and is now a parking garage); the description was of a shoddy little building that probably couldn’t hold the heat in to keep the tenants warm and roundly deserved to be replaced with something a little more solid. She seemed like she might have had a little bit of hope for her life, and certainly someone who missed her, and I found it heartbreaking that it was all taken away from her so quickly.

The play itself seems in many ways to be a character sketch of Mary Jane (Jennifer Kidd) and her boyfriend Joe Barnett (John Wark). Mary Jane is a bit of a drunk, quite rough, and very much aware that she needs to take care of herself in a world where no one can be relied on to take care of her – but she loves life enthusiastically and finds a lot of joy. Joe is a hardworking guy who is trying to just get by and is amazed by this gorgeous creature who has taken an interest in him; you can see where he would want to do anything to keep her happy.

The play makes it out that he’s not aware of how she’s been making a living and doesn’t seem to focus too much on what happens to the money he had at the beginning of the play and winds up squandering. Mary doesn’t come off as using him, but rather thoughtless about the fun they’ve been having; and when they run out of cash, while she pushes him to work, she also tries to deal with the situation reasonably. The extreme poverty of the era really seeps through, and the fact that once you slip off the ladder of respectability and trust and middle-classness, it’s almost impossible to climb back out. Mary seems to mock Joe for his pretensions or attempts to not be dirt poor; Joe, whether he achieved the lowest rung or not, doesn’t want to slip the rest of the way back off.

My fear was that this play was just going to be this terrible “Oh the spooky drama of the soon to be stabbed girl!” or some overly political “Prostitutes! No one treats them like people!” but instead it showed what I thought were two complicated, not-perfect people just trying to get by in a life that didn’t have a lot of romance in it. The two saddest moments for me were when they quoted the prostitute (Dark Alice?) who’d been killed trying to make enough money to get a place to sleep for the night, who laughed as she went back into the night to make her few pence; and when Joe tried to make Mary stay in and she said (in with a bunch of other dialogue), “I’m hungry!” The point was made and it didn’t need to be any stronger than it was.

Overall, quite a good show, and I’m really glad I made it all the way to the far east end of the London theater scene to catch this – and the dinner beforehand at 19 Numara Bos Cirrik was super tasty and a bargain at 30 quid for three people with leftovers.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, May 23rd.)

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One Response to “The Only Girl in the World – Arcola Theatre”

  1. Webcowgirl’s review of London theater 2008 « Life in the Cheap Seats - Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] the theater I most wanted to visit this year. I saw two productions there (Lady from the Sea, The Only Girl in the World) and kept trying to see more. The intimacy of the two spaces within the theater really pleased me; […]

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