London Road at The National Theatre
Following a sell-out run in The National’s Cottesloe Theatre in 2011, London Road returns for a limited run this summer on the Olivier Stage.
The show is based on the true events of 2006, when the rural town of Ipswich and it’s struggle with soliciting and kerb-crawling came to a head by the discovery of five dead prostitutes on the same London Road. The show identifies the community’s attempts to come to terms with the revelation and the coming together when Steve Wright (the occupant of number 79) is arrested and charged with all of the girls’ murders.
Adam Cork and Alecky Blythe’s music and lyrics are penned using natural speech rhythm from recorded interviews, but are still melodic and captivating. The characterisation, supported by this clever use of rhythm and dialogue, is suspending – particularly by performer Kate Fleetwood who plays Julie, a resident who proactively tries to lift everyone’s spirits by organizing “London Road in Bloom”, which encourages communication and socialisation between the houses. Her strong cheek bones and subtle, personable use of her body and graceful tottering is warming and you can’t help but trust her.
It is an easy, sparse and open set which compliments the naturalism of the piece. The music is played as an underscore that supports the documentary theme. The cast of 11 adapt and play over sixty different characters, all as distinct as the first. The delightful couple Tim (Hal Fowler) and Jan (Clare Burt) play sweetly, with Jan wearing the trousers despite her anxiety and anguish over the murders. Fowler’s ignored interjections are relatable and beautifully tragic and you are drawn to the pair when together.
The piece highlights the complexity of human nature. It dives in and out of pace and you’re thrown into empathy and concern. Act Two introduces the interview and a song (if you can call them that) with prostitutes who didn’t get picked up by Wright and their decision to leave the streets, trusting that “reg’lars” would keep them going. You hear the real recording near the end and the similarity is uncanny as well as heart-wrenchingly shocking.
The musical is astonishingly unique and hauntingly real. The intiricate details and second nature of the delivery and immense study of the people involved is very clever. It won “Best Musical” at the Critic’s Circle Awards in 2011, and rightly so.
I wouldn’t miss it, but don’t expect a musical. Expect a well-told, characterful and true story, supported by instruments and intelligent use of rhythm and a scary insight into human pressures and experience.