There Are No Beginnings
The latest offering from the Crescent Theatre is billed as a play which is 'not about the Yorkshire Ripper.' It lives up to its promise: Charley Miles' brilliantly intense play doesn't even mention his name. 'There Are No Beginnings' reclaims the Ripper narrative for victims; the women of Leeds between the years of 1975 and 1980 are rightfully centre stage. Directed by Alex Arksen, this is only the second time it has been performed. It premiered in Leeds back in 2019 and we are lucky to have it in Birmingham: it’s an important play and deserves to be seen the length and breadth of the country.
Written as a four-hander, the action shifts seamlessly between characters as the impact of the increasing number of murder victims is felt. The sound design (Kevin Middleton) is unnerving: fragments of news coverage cut violently into scenes to underscore the rising fear and panic which must have gripped the whole city. There's a palpable sense of anxiety but what is remarkable, in both the cleverness of the writing and this terrific production, is the power of female solidarity. The cast work together brilliantly to embody the four women through whose eyes we witness the impact of the sustained attacks and murders which haunted Leeds for half a decade.
Paula Snow plays June, mother to a teenager and social worker to vulnerable young women. Her emotionally charged performance captures the paralysing fear which must have been felt by all mothers at the time and a raw maternal instinct underpins her turbulent relationship with daughter Sharon. Brilliantly played by Chloe Potter, Sharon’s journey from sexually naïve and feisty teenager to politically active university student and feminist is a revelation. It’s a performance worthy of the professional stage.
The character of Helen, a young prostitute supported by June and eventually befriended by Sharon, is a challenge for any actor. Vicky Youster captures her complexity in a subtle and affecting performance which combines vulnerability and shame with defensiveness and anger. The talented cast is completed by Molly Hines as ambitious young police officer Fiona, desperate to make her mark and catch the killer.
The authorities at the time urged women to stay at home. In one of many rage-fuelled exchanges in the play, Sharon argues that the curfew should be imposed on men, not women. Sadly, curbing the freedoms of women in response to male violence is not confined to the 1970s. The ‘Reclaim the Night’ movement started in Leeds in 1977 and continues to speak to an important political imperative to unite and challenge.
“I think in fifty years’ time, things will be different,” muses one of the characters. “Are they?” asks Director Alex Arksen. “Recent events would suggest otherwise. Some things have changed of course, but some things have not. This play reminds us that we need to keep pushing forward, asking questions and working for change.”
The Crescent Theatre’s brilliant staging of ‘There Are No Beginnings’ does just that: asks important questions and makes an important contribution to working for change. And if it sounds too heavy and serious, think again: darkly comic moments puncture the action perfectly. Book a ticket. You won’t be disappointed.
‘There Are No Beginnings’ runs at The Crescent Theatre in Birmingham from 22nd to 29th October 2022.