Monday 19 October 2015

London Road

In April 2011, a rather controversial theatre production opened in London’s National Theatre. Despite the potentially disrespectful concept – a musical set in Ipswich during the serial murders ’06 to ‘08 – it opened to unanimous critical acclaim, with countless 5 star ratings from the press. It seemed only natural that the next step would be to adapt it into a film.

Out now on DVD comes London Road, directed by the original stage production’s Rufus Norris. London Road follows the residents of, you guessed it, London Road (in Ipswich), and how they coped when serial killer Steve Wright was on the loose between 2006 and 2008. It’s important to note we don’t see the killer, or any of his victims – instead, we hear about him from news reports and conversations between the locals. And rather than having a protagonist or ‘main character’ as it were, London Road follows an ensemble cast – those who live on the street, but also the police and media who have descended on the area and the locals who live nearby. These include recognisable faces such as Broadchurch’s Olivia Colman as Julie and an extremely brief appearance by Tom Hardy as a taxi driver, but also a large portion of the stage production’s cast reprise their roles for the big screen.

The most interesting thing about London Road, which also applies to the stage production of course, is the lyrics and dialogue of the piece. Every single word is taken verbatim from interviews conducted with the real locals and prostitutes who worked nearby, and from news reports. This even applies to the lyrics of the songs, which are sung in such a way that follows the patterns of the original recorded interviews – the meter, pitch and rhythm of the music follows the delivery of the speech, rather than the singing following the music. This verbatim approach lends a certain realism to the lyrics, with all ‘um’s, ‘like’s and general misused vocabulary intact. But it also brings an originality and uniqueness to the piece, which is somewhat difficult to get used to for the first couple of musical numbers. However, when the credits roll and you hear the real interviews, you’ll be surprised at how well Adam Cork set them to music. And they’ll be stuck in your head for days…

London Road is a story of two halves; the hunt for the killer and the ensuing paranoia and fear concluding with Steve Wright’s arrest and verdict, followed by the residents’ journey to rebuild their community spirit with the London Road in Bloom garden contest (which, incidentally, is still an annual fixture on the road). Thanks to some great pacing and a short run-time, the film flies by without a dull moment. But there’s no debating the fact that the subject matter is harrowing, and some might feel that a musical based around it is quite macabre. You wouldn’t make a musical based around 9/11 or the Holocaust, so why make one around a series of real murders in Ipswich? I can’t imagine what the families of the victims thought when the show was first announced. Thankfully, the subject is handled with the utmost respect, in such a way that makes the concept seem like a perfectly normal idea. Some scenes in the film are actually very moving, and the fact that everything is set to music isn’t always a bright and happy thing. Just look at Les Miserables. London Road is visually bleak and grim, as it should be, until the London Road in Bloom finale.

I unfortunately haven’t seen the original stage production, so cannot compare the film to it. From what I’ve read online, the show typically seems to be a far better way to experience London Road. But for someone who hasn’t seen or in my case hadn’t even heard of the original, London Road is an extremely original and unique musical which also effectively hybridises the thriller and drama genres. This is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.

London Road is certainly worth a visit. 4/5.


Sam Love

London Road at CeX

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