book and lyrics by Alecky Blythe
music and lyrics by Adam Cork
at the Cottesloe Theatre, Saturday 23rd July 2011
Verbatim theatre is still a relatively new form, and has yet to truly make its mark on mainstream theatre. Amazingly, Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork have brought the idea to the National, and added an extra layer of their own. Putting the words of their interviewees on Ipswich’s London Road to music creates a quite extraordinary effect which at times is truly haunting and at others great fun.
This new ‘musical’ (if you can call it that) follows the inhabitants of London Road throughout the period of the Ipswich murder and Steve Wright’s subsequent arrest. Strikingly, the focus is not the murders; it is a story of a community coming together, pulling through in hard times, and the invasion of privacy by the world’s media. The words collected by Blythe open our eyes to the viewpoints of those living in the area, with one character saying she’d “shake [Wright’s] hand”, and Cork’s music injects extra layers of emotion, reflecting the community aspect of the text.
Rufus Norris’ production is wonderfully understated, forcing us to consider the words being said rather than the production itself, and Katrina Lindsay’s design reflects the rebuilding of this neighbourhood. The end of the first act, which sees the stage covered in police tape, acts in stark contrast with the hanging baskets at the very end of the play.
The ensemble of eleven actors all multi-role, playing people on the street and members of the media. Kate Fleetwood’s organiser of “London Road in Bloom” is realised with alarming detail, and the relationship between Clare Burt and Hal Fowler is hilarious to watch. All walks of life are represented to here, and the verbatim nature of the text means we can actually see them on stage.
London Road is the most original musical I’ve ever seen. It brings verbatim theatre to a whole new level, making us look at the events in a whole new light. It doesn’t deserve the negative press it has received, for this is an optimistic and wholly inoffensive production. Thank goodness the National Theatre decided to extend its run, allowing more people to see this quite remarkable piece of theatre.