'London Road' musical relives Ipswich prostitute murders

Aug 14, 2012

Innovative show puts spotlight on community following 'Suffolk strangler' serial killings

National Theatre

What you need to know
The murder of five prostitutes in Ipswich may seem an unlikely, even tasteless, subject for a musical. But the true-life case of 'the Suffolk strangler' is the starting point for an acclaimed musical by dramatist Alecky Blythe and composer Adam Cork.

London Road centres on the locals left reeling after the 2006 killings by Steve Wright, now serving a life sentence. It begins with a Neighbourhood Watch meeting following the murders and ends with a 'London Road in Bloom' competition two years later, as community spirit finally begins to blossom.

Blythe wrote it after interviewing the residents of the street on which the prostitutes were all murdered. It is a "verbatim drama", with every single "um" and repetitive word from the interviews retained by Blythe and set to music by Cork.

Directed by Rufus Norris, this revival of London Road at the National Theatre's Olivier auditorium follows its hugely successful 2011 run at the Cottesloe.

What the critics like
On paper, London Road's haphazard, colloquial dialogue and the more formal structures of its music sound like "an impossible marriage", writes Jane Shilling in The Daily Telegraph. But the reality, she says, is quite the opposite: "comic, perceptive and deeply touching".

This is where the show's originality lies, says The Guardian's Michael Billington. Cork and Blythe have "discovered a musical pattern in fragmentary verbatim dialogue"; these repetitions are "almost Handelian". London Road, says Billington, is "miraculously innovative" because it "finds a new way of representing reality".

During the show's first run the mother of one of the victims accused its producers of profiting from the tragedy. However, says Michael Coveney in What's On Stage, there is "no hint of sensationalism or exploitation" in the play's depiction of prostitutes. "When three of the company stand stock still as 'working girls' in a haze of drugs, the moment is one of dignity and compassion".

What they don't like
The Guardian gives this latest production of London Road five stars and criticises nothing. But in its earlier review, of the 2011 Cottesloe production, critic Brian Logan found Blythe's verbatim drama irksome at times. "There are moments when the inarticulacy gets frustrating [and] it's left to Cork's songs to do the dramatic spadework."

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