Arts & Culture

Review: London Road

Friday 19 October
Review: London Road

- October 19 at 12:00 AM

by Lizzie Ward

Every so often, a play comes along challenging perceptions of what theatre is. London Road, written by Alecky Blythe, is one such play. It opened at the National Theatre in 2011, to critical acclaim. It focuses on the aftermath of the events of 2006, when Ipswich was rocked by a series of murders.

Between October 2006 and December 2006, five women were murdered. Steve Wright, a resident of London Road, was arrested and convicted. The play follows the residents of London Road as they attempt to come to terms with what this meant for their community. For years, they had struggled with kerb crawling and soliciting on their street. It is a study of what happens when the core of a community is rocked, and what it takes to rebuild, change and establish harmony. The residents had a special way of rebuilding their community – by holding a London Road in Bloom competition every year.

This is not just a play – it is a documentary and musical, using a unique mix of repetition and true to life speech. The scripts used in the play are original recorded interviews that the writer, Alecky Blythe, undertook during her research. She interviewed the tenants of London Road, and only used their words, rhythm of speech and their opinions to form the play. The rhythm of their speech and their words were put to music, the lines and words repeated many times, heightening atmosphere and intensity.

This repetitious speech and song was a main feature of the play, and I have never seen anything like it. Reading the captions was a strange experience because I was not expecting so much repetition, and it was not unlike a ‘broken record’. The effect was to deepen the audience’s understanding of the feelings and issues surrounding the events. According to the writer, she was attempting to keep the play as accurate a portrayal of reality as possible. The dialogue and music in this play becomes more important, in a way, than the action happening on stage – because they are setting the mood and meaning.

Many people have been greatly concerned about the controversial subject matter. Although the play does touch upon the events surrounding the murders, it doesn’t directly portray either the women or Steve Wright. It is a compassionate portrayal of what happens when a community is torn apart, and how they rebuild in the aftermath. There are some humorous moments, mostly borne from human error, particularly in the way the media conducted themselves. There is a sense that the community attempted to do something to help the other women walking the streets, working with the police and organisations to help women to rebuild their lives. For example, they urge the audience to support the Iceni project, which supports women out of prostitution.

Rather than being a voyeuristic depiction of the murders of five women, instead it raises awareness of the problems that can arise in communities, and how people can pull together to make positive change.