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Archive for August, 2012

A verbatim musical about the Ipswich murders of 2006 sounded to me a bit like ‘Springtime for Hitler’ – squirmy, in bad taste, and with no artistic merit.  Fortunately London Road is none of these things.  Alecky Blythe (book and lyrics) and Adam Cork (music and lyrics) have created a piece of theatre that is innovative, funny and moving.  The verbatim script, complete with hesitations, repetitions and cliches is transformed into music that is a hymn to everyday speech.  These are people’s real lives, the poetry and the prose of it.

The murders of the women working as prostitutes in a quiet suburban town was dealt with salaciously by the tabloids and with moral hand wringing by the broadsheets.  Alecky Blythe went and talked to the local residents to ask ‘how has this affected you?’  The answers are touching, peculiar, inspiring, and chilling.  The community, angry at the portrayal of the area as a seedy red light district, rallied together and formed a residents association.  This led to a ‘London Road in bloom’ competition, a beautifully, quirkily British affair.  The residents hated the prostitution happening on their streets, they hated the men kerb crawling and accosting local women, they hated the associated drug problem, they mostly hated seeing the prostitutes themselves.  The residents have varying degrees of sympathy for the women, and the circumstances that led them to become sex workers, and the most chilling moment comes when a resident says, unapologetically, that she would like to shake Steve Wright (the murderer)’s hand for cleaning up the area.

For a liberal, London, National Theatre-going audience, this is a complicated moment.  The resident’s (literal) sang-froid feels pitiless, horrifying.  And yet, the result of these terrible murders has been a community reinvigorated, engaged as citizens, looking after each other, taking a pride in their environment.  The horror, the indifference, the hope and the the joy coexist, morality is muddied, because life is muddied and morally complex.

The residents are presented as they really, are, because these are their actual words.  They are as normal, as odd, as funny, as un-self-aware, as lonely, as inspiring, as kind, as cruel and as loving as all of us.  When their words become song, it is moving and beautiful to hear the poetry there is in prosaic, quotidian life.  The production ends with a stage filled with hanging baskets.  The English obssession with gardens garlands the hopes of the community, and perhaps also signifies a wreath-laying of sorts for the dead women.  In a small community, these things lie side by side.

 

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