Book and Lyrics by Alecky Blythe
Music and Lyrics by Adam Cork
Directed by Rufus Norris
The National Theatre’s London Road
is a musical about the (recent) murders of five prostitutes in Ipswich. On the face of it, it sounds like it should be hugely distasteful: a horrifying and entirely true story which is still fresh in the minds of the victims’ families, which has been trivialised and turned into popular entertainment. Rather strangely though, it has picked up some stunning reviews and has been described as ‘ground-breaking’ and ‘extraordinary’. Having now finally seen it, I can understand why it has done so well: it is tastefully handled, it is beautifully executed and it uses a theatrical style which is extremely interesting (that of the verbatim musical). I could not honestly say it was the most gripping 2 hours I have spent in the theatre in terms of the content, but it is certainly something that everyone should see.
Steve Wright, the man found guilty of murdering five prostitutes in Ipswich in late 2006, lived at number 79 London Road. Alecky Blythe’s script is based on interviews that she conducted with the residents of this road. The responses are kept exactly intact, meaning that all the ‘lines’ are real human dialogue complete with hesitations. This gives it journalistic undertones, although the production is heavily stylised. What is particularly interesting about Blythe’s script however is that it focuses entirely on how the murders affect the residents and the community of London Road. It doesn’t consider the feelings of those who were directly affected, such as the families. Instead, it examines some of the more trivial repercussions of the events: the press trampling on the residents’ gardens, the possibly unfair labelling of the area as the ‘red light district’, and the deeply complicated and conflicting feelings of the local residents – who wanted to rid their street of prostitutes – towards Steve Wright, who murdered five of them. Blythe’s focus on this particular set of perspectives is what makes this production both brilliant and acceptable. The ultra-realistic script combined with these unique viewpoints couple to create an extremely human production, and one which certainly makes you think.
The unique script is then delivered as a verbatim musical, with the actors singing their lines to Adam Cork’s music, which is created by enhancing the natural melodies in the voices of the respondents. It is an interesting style, and it is strange to be hearing hesitations and grammatical inconsistencies being sung! On a personal level, I’m not sure it is a style that I particularly enjoyed: it was slightly repetitive and I felt it risked the whole thing being trivialised too much. That being said, it did remain tasteful throughout, and it also created some stunningly beautiful moments, complemented by Katrina Lindsay’s simple but extremely effective design. To say more would ruin the surprises, but the final scene, complete with hanging baskets, was a particularly powerful moment.
In conclusion, London Road is indeed a must see. Despite my concerns about the style that Rufus Norris’ production employs to deliver Blythe’s thought-provoking script, I do think that it comes together to create something unique. There will be those who criticise it for being distasteful, but I wholeheartedly disagree – this is a production which is based on real and understandable human thinking. It does nothing to offend those that suffered directly other than to not consider their opinions. But, as its name suggests, the production is not about them, it is about the residents of London Road.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below!