You may well think this doesn’t sound very us. Just not, well, very ‘Whingers’ at all.
Picture it: a play built from recorded interviews with the residents of London Road in Ipswich where the five prostitutes who were murdered in 2006 plied their trade. It’s not about the murders but about how the locals were affected by the events, the ensuing media scrum that followed and the arrest and conviction of the murderer Steve Wright who lived in their road.
Those words are delivered by actors verbatim, seemingly with every stumble, every umm and every err preserved.
Then, just to be brave or thoroughly reckless, music is set to those words, turning it into a musical of sorts. It couldn’t possibly work could it?
The icing on the cake is that it’s staged in the National Theatre‘s Cottesloe. Yes the Cottesloe!
That will have the Whingers rushing to see it, won’t it?
On the other hand, it did open with a tea urn…
Would you think we’d lost our minds completely if we said we thought it was really rather superb?
Some things just shouldn’t work. How easily this could have gone so terribly wrong. Alecky Blythe collected interviews from residents when the bodies were first discovered and also later when those affected by the events had melded into a close knit community (one of Phil’s least favourite words!) to improve their road, expunge the past and try to make good things come from bad.
The results capture the feelings of the ordinary dealing with the extraordinary (Think of the Camerons flying Ryanair): how they organise London Road in Bloom and compete to have the best garden and hanging baskets; how alarms were handed out on the streets to the worried residents; how the men felt under suspicion until the murderer was caught.
People struggle to express their thoughts. Couples interrupt each other. It’s a love letter to the vernacular.
It’s affectionate and probably only just steers just this side of patronising, but it’s also touching and often very funny – it’s like a live action Creature Comforts the musical.
It’s also a peculiarly unfashionable celebration of British spirit and as a bonus features some valiant stabs at the criminally under-represented Suffolk accent.
The top notch ensemble cast includes Nick Holder (bee keeper extraordinaire), Claire Moore (a former Christine in Phantom), Kate Fleetwood (Mrs Rupert Goold), Hal Fowler (Mr Kim Wilde) and Clare Burt (“Mrs” Larry Lamb) and some others of whom our knowledge is even sketchier. Such was the quality that it would be unfair to single anyone out. Indeed, everyone gets full marks just for succeeding in memorising the words and the music: it must have been hell to learn. How we pity the poor understudies.
The music (Adam Cork) follows the words and the rhythms of speech slavishly so don’t expect traditional musical theatre numbers but it keeps you on your toes, even if they’re not exactly tapping. Even so we can guarantee you will emerge from the theatre singing the words “Ummm, Impatiens” in your head until blessed sleep relieves you of the earworm.
We have been getting disheartened recently, having suffered so many disappointments, but this made us realise why we still bother. It’s utterly fresh and a completely theatrical and ultimately uplifting experience, fluidly staged by director Rufus Norris.
With a little trimming the interval could have been dropped (Act 2 is essentially more of the same) and then we would no doubt have awarded the full 5 glasses but nevertheless London Road can boast that almost unheard of epithet for a Cottesloe production: unmissable.