It’s not exactly something to boast about, but Australia did once lay claim to our very own Jack the Ripper: Frederick Bailey Deeming. Leichhardt local Frank Gauntlett has unearthed the macabre tale – worms and all – for a world premiere tackling murder, deceit, and media frenzies.
Deeming is based on the real-life murderer and gasfitter, Frederick Bailey Deeming. What drew you to this rather gruesome story? As friends and family will attest, I’m personally quite gruesome in various ways but Fred did seem to follow me around. Key books, vital bottles of gin or odd bits of information would lob unexpectedly and eventually this funny/scary melodrama happened. A couple of weeks ago I was quite shocked to discover that the appalling Mr. Deeming might have lodged in Leichhardt. I live in Leichhardt. He might have used my bathroom! Events of grotesque inhumanity naturally make me think of the theatre and so there’s a lot of theatre in there. A lot of Deeming, the play, is about celebrity and entertainment and paying back some money to a bloke known only as Sid.
The 1892 trial attracted a lot of media attention at the time, and quite remarkably did actually result in a smash-hit theatrical adaptation by Alfred Dampier. Why do you think it captured the public’s imagination? A bit like today, there was a lot of unease in Australia in 1892 and there was a keen audience for Scary Monsters. Deeming was a very interesting monster with all kind of angles happening – so was Alfred Dampier in his own way. The media went completely crazy and to a considerable extent drove outrage and action. Dampier needed a winner and responded with flair. Super-dubious links in Australia, South Africa and England made Fred a genuine international horror but there is something so inhuman and alien about Deeming that is very frightening. Some still think Fred was Jack the Ripper.
And in a tale stranger than fiction, how did you go about crafting Deeming into a theatrical product for Sydney, 2012? Like life, Deeming does kinda take off into fiction in hearty chunks and I’ve horribly defamed a few people who were probably quite nice. They are, however, almost certainly still dead and not zombies at all. It seemed a good time to thrust a bit of melodrama where it can spread fiendish spores. I thought it was important for everyone to break with theatrical convention and not only keep their pants on but to keep them on here. In Australia. Where they belong.
It can be quite tricky having an unlikeable protagonist … how did you get around this? We’re struggling to put together an Aghast Kit, offering practical advice to the audience member rendered aghast by the rollicking roller-coaster ride. Deeming could be fatally charming.
And, what are your thoughts on reality TV? As evil as Deeming himself or are there some redeeming (ha!) attributes? I hate things about fat people, and not just The News, and recently saw a genuinely bizarre thing about hosing down British Slappers to make them fit for human consumption or something. Actually I don’t like the Ladette/Lady thing at all and know squat about celebrity Kardashians. I wouldn’t know what to say to a swampy American yokel. A lot of it seems to be driven by accountancy.
May 22-Jun 3, King St Theatre, 644 King St, Newtown, $25-30, kingstreettheatre.com.au