Olivier Theatre, London
Saturday 18th August 2012
In 2006, the quiet Suffolk town of Ipswich found itself at the centre of an investigation into the murders of five prostitutes whose bodies were discovered in the local area. The story of the murders and the subsequent trial of the serial killer Steven Wright were headline news.
The verbatim book and lyrics of this uniquely groundbreaking musical were selected from a series of interviews conducted with the residents of London Road - the street Steven Wright was living on, and his victims were working on - and other Ipswich residents. Through lots of careful repetition, a strategic inclusion of filler words and laughter and the retention of the soft Suffolk accents, a natural rhythm and musicality has been found in this simple, everyday speech. The result has a refreshing power that never feels false. You get an immediate sense of personality from each of the dozens of characters played by the 11 supremely talented and versatile cast members, who include a stand-out Kate Fleetwood.
The story is a powerful one. The prevailing scene, for me, was the interview with the prostitutes in the number "We've All Stopped", and later the recording of the same words from the real girls themselves. Also striking however was the feeling of community among the residents, symbolised beautifully by the "London Road in Bloom" competition. Some of the views expressed were shocking, it would hardly be realistic if they weren't, but a widespread concern for the girls was the shared emotion most impressed upon the audience.
The staging was minimal, but delicately impressive. Silhouettes of additional people of Ipswich adorned the stage, Police tape wound around and across to create a constricting web hemming in the London Road residents, screens showing staged news reports were shown on TVs. Throughout the action a collection of bright hanging baskets hung from the ceiling, some dropping down on wires in the final optimistic scene.
An innovative production, which captures the feeling of ordinary people thrust into an extraordinary situation. Clever, thought-provoking and imaginative - proof that musical theatre can tackle any subject, and achieve a depth of feeling beyond the stereotypical sequins and sparkle.