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The Theatreguide.London Review

The Incident Room
New Diorama Theatre   February-March 2020

The Incident Room, devised by the company from a script by Olivia Hirst and David Byrne, takes us back to the shambolic 1970's search for the killer of women whom the media dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper.

This true crime police procedural shows a group of mainly male officers gathered together to give intense focus to a major crime, only to swamp themselves in paper documents and files that eventually grew so large and weighty they threatened to break through the Incident Room floor.

We see them wearily ploughing through reports, having little idea how to separate vital evidence from hoax phone calls, trivialm letters and their own distracting prejudices about women.

The production's depiction of the tedium that almost brought Assistant Chief Constable George Oldfield (Colin R Campbell), who headed the investigation, to a breakdown, can't help but feel drawn out over the show's 140 minute running time.

This is despite the occasional imaginative expressionist touch of shifts in the lighting and the sudden discovery of victims' clothing in cups.

The most interesting aspect of the play is its evocation of the sexism of the investigation, helped by the story being presented as the memory of officer Megan Winterburn (Charlotte Melia), supposedly there as a key investigator, but constantly used to type up reports and, on a bizarre whim, sent clubbing with a survivor in the hope of them bumping in to the ripper.

We hear of the unhelpful suggestions that a night curfew should be placed on women and even Officer Winterburn being told she should be accompanied to her car by a male officer.

Performances are detailed and convincing, though there is a very cartoon-like representation of a Manchester detective. But then the police stupidity and prejudice in this case could read like a farce and was such an embarrassment to government and police that it took till 2006 for the 1981 official inquiry to be released.

By that time we could of course all rest assured the police were sharper, less prejudiced, and more effective. And if you weren't convinced of that, you had only to ask Jimmy Saville, who was having them round every Friday for his police breakfast club for twenty years from the 1980's.

Keith McKenna

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Review -  The Incident Room - New Diorama Theatre 2020