Remember a few years ago when a serial killer murdered five prostitutes in Ipswich? Well it's that - The Musical. No, London Road
doesn't have the most obvious subject matter. Add the fact that it's written by Alecky Blythe, a verbatim playwright whose previous plays
have all featured the actors wearing headphones on stage, listening to the original recordings and recreating the lines exactly as the interviewees said them. So a verbatim musical on an unlikely subject - this was going to go one of two ways and either way I wanted to see it happen.
Fortunately it goes the right way, and rather spectacularly so. A fantastic ensemble cast of 11 (including KateFleetwoodWhoIWasInThatPlayWithThatTi
meAndDidIMentionThatWasAMusicalToo) play the members of the local neighbourhood watch, as well as 52 other characters between them. When Ipswich's red light district was redeveloped in 2000, the prostitutes working there moved to the nearby residential streets, including London Road. This was also the road where, in 2006, Steve Wright was living when he murdered five of those prostitutes. Though other sides of the story are heard, Blythe's main focus is on the residents of the road, of how these events affected them and how they developed a community spirit to help deal with it (the show is bookmarked by an annual gardening competition organised by Fleetwood's Julie.) Blythe's initial interviews were conducted while the killer was still on the loose, resumed after Wright's arrest, at his trial and a couple of years later catching up on how the area had recovered.
The spoken sections continue to show the playwright's ability to wittily edit real-life speeches into a narrative and once again there's a lot of very funny moments. But the real question was of how she and composer Adam Cork would turn some of the interviews into songs and although there's a lot of repetition used to provide a kind of chorus, for the most part they have indeed transposed ordinary speech into music, making something significant out of the most apparently banal statements. Cork's music reflects the characters' personality and has some funny flourishes itself - I liked how a TV cameraman speaking in a Jafaican accent got a bit of an ironic hip hop beat thumping under his song. But the whole thing is really hard to describe, you have to see it yourself and I strongly recommend that you do if you can, the creative team have in effect created a new genre. It's not perfect of course - a moment where some of the residents reveal a chilling admiration for the killer who got rid of the prostitutes who'd been terrorising their street feels underdeveloped. Something completely new at the theatre isn't always a good thing - often if something's never been done before it's for a good reason; and with recent experiences in the Cottesloe, booking for this seemed like a risky proposition. But Blythe, Cork and director Rufus Norris have impressively pulled it off.London Road
by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork is booking until the 18th of June at the National Theatre's Cottesloe.