The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, with nearly 3,500 shows. This year, Playbill is in Edinburgh for the entire month in August for the festival and we’re taking you with us. Follow along as we cover every single aspect of the Fringe, aka our real-life Brigadoon!
With the true crime crave continuing to expand into nearly every corner of media in the Western world, it was only natural that musical theatre would be affected. While crime centered musicals are nothing knew in the grand scope of things, this years Fringe is particularly flush with them, ranging from the sell-out Playbill Pick Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder, which centers on a murder podcast, to the musical murder mystery Come Die With Me.
Ripper, a musical reimagining of the legendary cold case of Jack the Ripper, is part of the trend. But it also has a more stirring personal connection for the show's writer/composer/producer Pete Sneddon—the musical was inspired by two traumatic incidents in Sneddon's life.
In the interview below, Sneddon and Ripper's female lead, Shannon Daly, explains how they took the personal and turned it into a musical about murder.
How long have you been working on your show?
Pete Sneddon: Since 2010. I recorded some of the songs then, and started to try and figure out a plot. It’s had various concepts and plot ideas, some written by published crime writers, but none worked for me. The latest version of the plot was the one that finally let me put the story together.
The reason I feel it’s taken so long is that subconsciously, I was trying to tell myself something and was unable to see what it was. Then, about 3 years ago, I recovered memories of being abused by our next door neighbor, a secret I had kept from myself and everyone else since it had happened. This had a profound impact on how I viewed myself, and my relationship to everyone around me. The impact of living this lie, so my subconscious could protect me from the trauma is the theme that ultimately I explore in this show.
It was made doubly troublesome for me, as a memory recall, as my mother had committed suicide in 2005 after a long battle with her own mental health. Her issues were a consequence of child abuse, poverty, and growing up with a drunk as a father who abused her. She also repressed those memories until she was in her late 30s. My own remembering brought up all the loss and grief, and a fearful comparison that I would end up the same way.
What is it about Jack the Ripper that makes him such an enduring pop culture figure?
Sneddon: No one really knows who it was. The great mystery is enduring, and Jack was the first time media played a part in the overt sensationalization of a story.
Daly: I guarantee if they had figured it out, he wouldn’t be nearly as prolific as he became. The human mind enjoys coming up with theories, and thinking of the worst possible scenarios.
What’s been the most difficult part about performing in the Fringe?
Sneddon: As the writer and producer, it was the fear of being taken out of context. The shows isn’t a glorification of violence or abuse against women, but it does look at those themes.
What has been the most rewarding part about performing in the Fringe?
Daly: Getting to originate a role for the first time—Ripper is the first show I’ve done that’s having it’s world premiere and seeing the reaction to the whole show and my character in general is so empowering and such an amazing feeling for me.
Sneddon: Seeing people's reactions to the work. And the leading lady being empowered by the role. Her feeling is a highlight for me, as it is written to highlight the fragility of the male ego and the lengths we all go to trying to avoid outing our pain.
Ripper plays the Hill Street Theatre through August 27. For more information, go here.