The unique and innovative genre of verbatim musical is a particularly difficult one for amateur dramatics. London Road portrays the effects of the 2006 Ipswich serial murders of five sex workers by re-creating word for word the speech from interviews with local residents. Every word, hesitation and unfinished sentence is scripted and pitched precisely as it was said, often to music, creating an intense technical workload for the cast. The critical acclaim for the original musical is a daunting aspect, but the opening night at the ADC saw a very impressive and lively show from the performers, only to be let down a bit too often by sound and lighting slips.
It takes a while to get used to the interesting style of song, or weird tuneful speaking. The precision with which the cast sings is unnerving; the lyrics become so rehearsed that the natural speech intonations are no longer casual and the exactness of each rhythm and tone becomes robotic. Fidgeting mannerisms are unnaturally repeated with phrases said over and over again, which sometimes works well, such as documenting a particular news reporter’s comedic number of takes required. Yet sometimes, it is just a bit too strange, a slightly too exaggerated broken record, which does however give this musical about serial murders its unnerving edge. Good choreography builds up excitement at the right instances, and the crowd of eleven singing in and out of unison feels like the roar of the whole city when the stage is full of activity.
Making a musical out of a set of horrific murders hardly seems appropriate, but London Road is very much about the effects on the lives of the real people in the city and neither the victims nor the murderer are featured directly. The musical manages to retain a high degree of faithfulness to the residents’ stories and honest words through the verbatim style, with no cheesy motifs to be seen. This is not a show where the cast can really let go and show off their musical talents, their speech and song carefully restrained for accurate depiction, but a much stronger sense of character is felt as a result.
We hear from a diverse range of people, from schoolgirls to prostitutes to news reporters. A few recurring interviews help ground us amidst the activity, with these humorous couples who live on London Road, the same street on which Steve Wright murdered the five girls. Convincing accents successfully last through the night, and the fact that no one actor particularly shines is a testament to the engaging depictions of each individual and the community spirit emphasised. As the events surrounding the five murders progress, the atmosphere of the city changes from suspicion to press intrusion to excitement at the drama and finally to a community who are feeling the lasting effects, and are building the spirit of London Road up again.
This really is an inventive form of drama worth seeing, the manifestation of real engaging human stories triggered by an act of horror. Even if the lack of obvious melodiousness grates on you, an appreciation of the brilliant and fruitful efforts of the whole performance team should get you through.
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