Using the intonations and rhythm naturally present in speech, interview material is transformed into musical theatre. It is not straightforward ‘musical’ material – there is always a sense that reality wins out over one’s expectations of the musical theatre genre, which is fitting for such gritty subject matter. Perhaps ‘gritty’ is not a suitably descriptive word. When I tell people what the play is ostensibly ‘about’ – the murders of five prostitues in Ipswich between 2006-7 – there is a certain amount of recoil. When you consider the actual content of the script, however, one cannot avoid the realisation that this is a play about community in all it’s most unflattering and mundane guises, infused with a frisson of morbid excitement. The fallout from this unwanted ‘excitement’ is a heartening mix of community cohesion and press-bashing.
The wonderful characterisations by a highly versatile cast alone makes London Road an enjoyable excercise in theatre-going, but the script is the star of the show – hovering as it does between art and reality. These are, after all, the words of real people; residents, prostitues, shopkeepers, TV presenters, that are being crafted and re-worked into melody. We are occasionally reminded of this throughout the performance, never so powerfully as when phrases that have just been sung on stage are replayed in their original form – an interview with a prostitute from Ipswich. It’s a real feat of musical and theatrical invention, which continues to be surprising and touching until the end.
One quite important criticism would be that the second half seems unnecessary. The play could have been run as a piece of short theatre and maintained it’s energy and momentum much better. The real impact lies in the audience’s examination of the residents and their reactions to the unfolding events, and the second half is largely focussed on the news coverage of the verdict, which is less engaging and feels less directly related to speech patterns. Perhaps this is something to do with the flat language of the media.
A fascinating idea. Perhaps a little over-long.