|London Road, National Theatre, review|
|Written by news desk - telegraph.co.uk|
Tea cups, sofas and a serial killer drive Alecky Blythe's London Road at the National Theatre, a play about the murder of five prostitutes in Ipswich, writes Jane Shilling.
The serial murder of five prostitutes in Ipswich doesn’t seem an especially promising subject for a musical. But this is the material from which dramatist Alecky Blythe and composer Adam Cork constructed London Road.
The killings took place between late October and early December 2006, and soon after the discovery of the last body, Blythe made her way to London Road, the street in which the murderer had lived, to interview the residents. The murders, and the ensuing media siege, had drawn the community together. A Neighbourhood Watch committee had been set up, a London Road in Bloom competition established, there were social gatherings and Christmas parties – the roughage of everyday life, but in an extraordinary context.
Blythe had already written verbatim dramas in which actors reproduced the words and intonations of her interviewees, with every hesitation, repetition and “um” faithfully retained. Now she and Cork set the words of London Road’s residents to music. It should be an impossible marriage – the formal structures of music and the haphazard meanderings of colloquial speech. In fact it is the opposite: comic, perceptive and deeply touching.
The Olivier revival of the show, which premiered at the Cottesloe last year, begins at the Neighbourhood Watch AGM, tea urn steaming nicely, tea cups clinking, an air of general bemusement that such awful things should have happened locally. “If it had happened in London, no one would mind, ’cos everyone gets stabbed in London,” someone observes.
Over a swiftly compressed two years the tension rises as the trial approaches and the media set up camp in London Road. Christmas comes: a fairy-lit Santa looms above a shopping centre in which Vicky Pollard-esque teenagers shiver and giggle. Down the pub, a man tries to persuade his friends that an extensive knowledge of serial killers doesn’t mean that he is one.
On the sofas of London Road the residents watch themselves on television. Out in the street, three prostitutes appear, gazing outwards in a silence so protracted that the audience begins to shuffle uncomfortably.
Set to Adam Cork’s plangently melodic score, performed by a six-part band, London Road is a production of many beautifully calibrated parts. Exceptional design and lighting, outstanding performances by an ensemble cast and precision direction by Rufus Norris combine in a production that speaks eloquently about the human condition in all its messy tragi-comedy, while never straining for effect.