Review – London Road, National Theatre

Thursday 14 April 2011

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.


Rating score 4-5 full-bodied

9 Responses to “Review – London Road, National Theatre”

  1. sally ann Says:

    I thought you guys were losing it, dissing the pig, and enduring the Brolly Song twice, but you’ve got it right here. I turned to my GBF last night and whispered “it’s Creature Comforts”. Was I the only one on my feet at the end? It’s a remarkable piece of work.

  2. A Clown Says:

    So pleased you agreed with me on this, couldn’t have coped if we’d been divided on this as well as Betty! And I knew you’d work the Creature Comforts reference in 😉
    Did you get the long silence after the prostitutes did their bit?

  3. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:

    Yes. Very, very long silence (apart from the audience coughing)I think they’d just watched Moonlight.

  4. Dominick Says:

    I agree, I really thought “this won’t possibly work”, yet found it absolutely absorbing and a totally unique and strangely uplifting piece.

  5. Ali67 Says:

    It really is a brilliant show.. And after the dreary Betty, this is sn entertaining and bizarrely heart warming show, celebrating how sometimes good things can come out of horrible situations.

    I hope the critics can praise it and haven’t spent all their gushing on the mediocre Betty Blue Eyes.

  6. theycallmechristophe Says:

    Hmm could be the thing to drag me back into the Cottesloe, kicking and screaming. On a tangent, are you gents planning on investigating The Kissing Dance at The Jermyn St Theatre?

  7. Glen Says:

    Glad to see that non Suffolk folk are finding the piece works.
    As someone who was living in Ipswich at the time of the Steve Wright murders it was always going to be an uncomfortable show to watch but was impressed how it captures the feeling in the town at the time.

  8. Jeannie Farr Says:

    Sorry to introduce a cavilling note but I wasn’t totally convinced by London Road. It was inventive and fresh theatrically and the performers were exceptionally skilled. However, I missed the themes and character shaping that verbatim writing can’t provide. The music offered some moving moments but what was it about in the end. I also didn’t get the sense of the courage of the community trying to heal itself until I read the programme. The only challenging moments (and they were impressive) were the long silence of the prostitutes as they stared out at us and the speech of relief of Julia’s.

  9. […] figured it was likely to be preachy and reverent or nauseatingly simplistic. Yet, despite this, the West End Whingers said it was amazing and tweeter after tweeter said it as a must see. What was I missing out on? Sensing a sell-out and […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: