London Road: Review

Today I travelled to London to see London Road at the National Theatre.  London Road is a piece of musical theatre in response to the tragic Ipswich murders which took place over the Christmas period in 2006.  The production attracted controversy when it was first announced, with many publications, including the Evening Star, deeming it crass and distasteful.  The production isn’t actually the Ipswich Murders: The Musical that some billed it to be, and actually looks at the effect the events had on the residents of London Road, where the girls worked and where the killer lived.

The production utilises interviews given by residents and others, and their speech patterns and imperfections are retained in the music, meaning that the rhythm and melodic intonation is guided “purely” by the initial speech.  This is a technique that Alecky Blythe, the writer, frequently uses, but was a new departure for composer Adam Cork.  Despite the initial backlash, the production secured an excellent critical response, which led to its run being extended.  I was very interested to see how it tackled the issues of such tragedy through the musical medium, and also how it portrayed the town of Ipswich.

At first, I disliked the “sung-speech” technique used.  I do think that it heightens people’s mannerisms almost to a comical level, especially when the lines are repeated as much as they are in several of the “numbers”.  Indeed, there was a great deal of laughter from the audience at first, as “er”s and “um”s kept being repeated in the same places, indeed in completely unnatural places.  This technique of writing is supposed to keep the “purity” of the interviews, but if somebody were to repeat the same line several times, the imperfections, mispronunciations, and malapropisms would appear in different places each time.  I felt that the method of writing stilted the actors.  Indeed, although they performed admirably, there was no real emotional engagement with any individual actor as there was no room for them to express themselves – they were just part of a whole, albeit a highly convincing one.

I grew more and more accustomed to the musical style, and was particularly impressed by two movements in the second half.  The opening number featured the London Road residents discussing their inability to sleep at night.  Brittle cross-rhythms belied the fear of the residents, whilst a three-part canon brought home the emphasis of the text.  Here the natural speech-rhythms really did work to portray the emotional message.  The verdict scene saw three news networks bring the news to viewers, as reporters panicked about their satellite links going down, then announced the verdict for each count of murder.  Crashing cross-rhythms and frantic woodwind passages brought the sense of chaos across to the audience, as the reporters sung the verdicts at completely different times from each other, occasionally dropping into unison.

The performance began and ended at London Road in Bloom – the festival set-up by the Neighbourhood Watch scheme to bring back community spirit to residents.  (Incidentally, this event has just taken place for the fourth time and is has been a tremendous success in revitalising the area.)  I did feel that several musical numbers went on for too long, and could have been equally (or more) effective at a shorter length, and I also felt that the show should have ended with the “Well look at it now” chorus, rather than feature a reprise of the opening “In bloom” chorus.  There was also a bizarre moment where a recording of the original interview was played, presumably to inform the audience of the method used, but to me it didn’t quite fit into the narrative.

There were staggering moments of dramatic pathos too.  There was a full minute of silence, whilst drug-abusing prostitutes stared into the audience, seemingly afraid to speak and tell us of their habit and how they have changed their lives since the murders.  The terror of the residents sitting in their living rooms, watching a press conference taking place just two doors up the road.  The police tape being wound around each of the residents as they sung, as the investigation at Number 73 stepped up.

All in all this was a fantastic production.  I purchased the CD afterwards, and listening back to music from the first half, I now think it very good indeed – it took me a little while to get into the style, but once I was there I was truly convinced.  It was a very difficult task to bring such a terrible tragedy to stage, especially in a music theatre context, but I think this production was immensely successful, and it brought back many memories of fear, sadness, and shock back to me from that terrible period in 2006.

England – Top of the World

Saturday 13th August, an historic day.  After being the laughing stock of world cricket for so many years, after the countless false dawns the England Test Match Cricket team are finally the number one ranked side in the world.  As many of you will know, I have been a massive cricket fan as long as I can remember.  My first memories are of the Atherton years, when England lurched from defeat to defeat, caused by poor management, mediocre players and inconsistent selection.  Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher brought in some success (including beating the West Indies in 2000 and Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 2000/1) at the turn of the century, but this was short-lived.  Michael Vaughan scaled a huge peak in 2005 in regaining the Ashes after 18 years, but that proved to be the end of the road for a promising side, as injuries and retirements pulled the team apart.  Only now does England have a real squad, have achieved a series of successes and look like the genuine outfit.  I am thrilled that England have finally made the summit, and hope that they can maintain that ranking.

Rather than continuing in that bland fashion, I felt that I should share something that I first wrote in January 2000.  At that time, a teacher at St John’s Primary School in Ipswich encouraged my love of cricket and happily discussed it with me, and I wrote him these England Cricket Alphabets.  It is very obviously written by an eight-year-old, but it does sum up the “bad old days”:

At the moment the England team are:

Abysmal

Beaten

Collapsing

Dire

Emergency

Following-on

Graceless

Horrendous

Idiots

Jokes

Knocked-out

Losing

Miserable

Nuisance

Outrageous

Pessimistic

Quitters

Resigned

Stupid

Terrible

Useless

Victims

Weak

eXhausted

Yielding

Zany

 

I would like the England team to be:

Accurate

Brilliant

Collosal

Determined

Excellent

Fantastic

Great

Heroes

Inspirational

Jubilant

Kings

Lucky

Magnificent

Noble

Optimistic

Passionate

Qualifying

Run-scoring

Strong

Terrific

Unstoppable

Victorious

Winning

eXciting

Youthful

Zealous

 

I think, eleven-and-a-half years later, we have finally got there.