In 1974, the detection rate for murder was over 90%, the Equal Pay Act came into force, and woman were integrated into the police.
But it took one man to change it allProgramme notes from the Incident Room
These words, from the play’s writers and directors, hone in on its appeal, because The Incident Room doesn’t rely on simplistic slasher movie-style horror or lazy stereotyping. It shows ambitious and clever police officers, some of whom are stuck in the past and would rather see the females of the team answering phones or transcribing, and the dynamics between them. Many are based on real people, such as main character Megan Winterburn (Charlotte Melia), and her colleague Andrew Laptew (Jamie Samuel), who has the agony of realising he missed a chance to catch the Yorkshire Ripper before the last three victims died.
As the title suggests, The Incident Room’s action takes place in the police’s domain, except for a trip to the clubs with Ripper survivor Maureen Long (an excellent Katy Brittain), who hopes to identify her attacker. Scenes between Maureen and Megan are some of the most moving in the play but, like the rest of the script, there’s humour to be found, even in the darkest times, and sparky Maureen is unforgettable.
Writers Olivia Hirst and David Byrne have ensured the victims aren’t cardboard cut-outs or distant figures – they feel distinct, and an item from each of them appears in the room to remind us of their physical presence. A local journalist piles on the pressure to remind the team of how scared local people are. Individual news coverage plays for each woman on a projector that cuts across the towering floor to ceiling filing cabinets by set designer Patrick Connellan. At one point the cabinets cleverly tilt, referencing the amount of paperwork involved in the case – paperwork that often felt pointless, but would include the perpetrator in its findings, hidden in plain sight amongst thousands of other names.
The script was co-created with the cast, as well as being inspired by interviews with those involved in the case, from policemen and women to the friends of victims. There’s a brilliant list of further reading on the back of the programme, revealing some of the books and documentaries that went into making this such a strong and respectful production. I’d add BBC Four’s series, The Yorkshire Ripper: A Very British Crime Story (2019), which put the crimes in a wider sociological context, and Carol Ann Lee’s book, Somebody’s Mother, Somebody’s Daughter: True Stories from Victims and Survivors of the Yorkshire Ripper (2019).
The Incident Room may be too bleak for more sensitive viewers, but this is an absorbing and emotive play with real heart, and plenty of unexpected but much-needed humour. If you’ve missed it at the Fringe, look out for its transfer to the New Diorama Theatre next year.
Authors: Olivia Hirst and David Byrne
Directors: Beth Flintoff and David Byrne
Producer: Caroline Simonsen for New Diorama Theatre
Box Office: 020 7609 1800
Booking Link: https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/incident-room#overview
Booking Until: 26 August 2019
The Incident Room transfers to New Diorama Theatre from 11 February – 14 March 2020.