Tuesday, 19 April 2011

London Road at the National Theatre

A lovely sunny Saturday afternoon so, of course, I must have been in the theatre... At least I cycled there and back so did get a little burst of vitamin D.

London Road is a new play by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork about the effect the murder of five prostitutes had on the residents of London Road in Ipswich, where the crimes took place and the murderer was eventually found to have briefly lived.

Unusually, though, the play is a musical and all the songs are based on interviews with the residents of the area themselves. As far as I can understand it, rather than writing a tune and fitting words to it (or however song writing works?!), Cork listened to the natural rhythm and pitch in the speaking voices of the residents and then emphasised what was already there until it was a melody. But still leaving in the ums and errs, repetitions and pauses to keep the sound true to the original recording.

It's very effective. The songs and the dialogue merge almost perfectly, and often sound like both speech and music. You know how if you're listening to a crowd and you can't make out any individual words, it can still sound musical? Like that. It also emphasises single phrases, as they're repeated over and over, that take on layers of meaning that aren't always possible with a single line of dialogue.

It could have been a very depressing afternoon - murder's not usually the lightest subject. But overall I found the play uplifting. Partly through witnessing the residents' determination to drag their town out of the shadow of the murders (through a gardening competition) and partly because it just felt very human, which is also why it's very funny in places. 

A little slice of life, perhaps: quite often depressing, human and a bit funny all in one afternoon.

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