The TheatreguideLondon Review
This admirable experiment marries two theatrical modes, verbatim and
musical, that you might think incompatible, with far more success than
you'd expect - though I have to admit there's a lot of Dr. Johnson's
dog about that judgement, being impressed less by its excellence than
by the fact that it's accomplished at all.
Blythe uses the current mode of verbatim theatre, in which the script
is not only based on the words of actual people, but on recordings of
them, with the actors duplicating accents and speech rhythms, down to
every er, um, pause and repetition.
(In her previous
plays Blythe had the actors wear headphones, listening to the original
recordings and parroting them. She explains in a programme note that
the complications of music made her let this cast memorise their
Blythe and composer
Adam Cork have set some of their verbatim dialogue to music, usually by
finding the natural rhythm of a sentence or phrase and building on it
through repetition, overlapping or even fugal structure, so a typical
line might go 'You automatically think, you automatically think, that
he might be the one, the one'.
To add to the
challenge, the subject is an unlikely one. In 2006 a residential
Ipswich street that had become the turf of prostitutes was rocked by a
series of Ripper-style murders, and the play is built on the response
of the residents, from the mix of fear and fascination to the discovery
that the killer was a new neighbour, the fascination with the
investigation and trial, and the attempt to renew the street's spirit
and reputation afterward.
The musical notes
but doesn't harp on the irony that it took the murders to get the
police to take complaints about the streetwalkers seriously, for social
services to begin helping the girls and for the residents to develop
any sense of community, forming a neighbourhood watch, quiz nights and
a gardening competition.
Norris's direction a cast of eleven play five or six roles each, from
neighbours to reporters to streetwalkers, with a smooth, clear and
fast-moving flow. Among the most effective musical numbers are a choral
catalogue of flowers in the garden competition and a scene in which
teenage girls get giggly over the thrill of being frightened of every
man they pass.
strong bit of staging has a policeman criss-cross the stage with
barrier tape while the residents try to live their lives in the
shrinking spaces thus created.
Of course none of
the music will stick in your mind afterward, few of the characters have
the opportunity of registering beyond their brief appearance, and even
the neighbours aren't effectively individualised, so none of the
performers really stands out. And you might run out of patience with
the constant fragmented sentences and repetitions generated by both the
verbatim script and the conversion into songs.
So your reaction is
likely to be delighted surprise that the experiment didn't fail, rather
than finding it a particular success.
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Review - London Road - National Theatre 2011