City’s lady killers in Lantern’s focus

THERE is growing concern about the rise in violent crimes committed by teenage girls – up by a fifth in the last four years – made all the shocking perhaps because people don’t expect such things from “the fairer sex”.

While the figures for female violence and murder remain minuscule compared with those committed by men, a show at the Lantern Theatre this weekend demonstrates that female killers are by no means a new phenomenon.

Red Redemption Theatre Company are presenting Of Blood and Velvet, a series of dark tales of women murderers in the time of Jack the Ripper. Two of these murderesses come from Sheffield – Kate Dover, a Heeley shopkeeper and Mary Thorpe, little more than a child, who was born in Ecclesfield.

The plays pose the question of whether they should have been subjected to the merciless capital punishment meted out to them or were they just victims of their times or their situations?

Other stories focus on characters such as Mary Ann Cotton, infamous for murdering more than 21 people including 12 children, and Kate Webster, who killed her employer.

Kay Massey has written and directed the piece about Mary Ann Cotton and admits it is hard to have any sympathy for her. “She was the first to use arsenic after going to get rat poison and being given a new substance by the chemist which she tried out on her children who all died. Then she murdered her husband. You have to say it was very clever the way she did it.

“She then moved to the North and married someone else. She often found men who had children and then killed them. In the 27 years between her first murder in 1856 and 1873, when she was hanged at the age of 41, she killed at least 21 people.

“It’s an horrific story and I had to think of a way of dramatising it. I chose to have her being interviewed in prison by a female journalist and recalling her crimes.

“I also tried to bring a bit of humour to it which I think you can do because these things happened so long ago.”

The other plays are written by Gill Buttery, Alice Collins and David Dyson Holling.

Previously known as Red Road Theatre and Dead Red Theatre, the company has re-formed as Red Redemption with a view to putting on plays about local people by local writers performed by local actors. Some of those involved are members of the Lantern Theatre and CAPA performance school run by the Crucible’s Ruth Carney.

There are performances Of Blood and Velvet at the Lantern Theatre on Friday and Saturday.