Film review: London Road
13:11 13 June 2015
The National Theatre’s acclaimed production about the 2005 Ipswich serial murders is an original but testing film adaptation, says Michael Joyce.
London Road, being a film adaptation of a stage production of a verbatim musical about a community caught at the centre of the real life serial killing of five women by Steven Wright in Ipswich in 2006, is an awkward proposition to sell to an audience. It’s a difficult concept to grasp; and once grasped it’s a difficult concept to think of as being anything other than a really terrible idea. It isn’t, but it has its drawbacks.
First off, this is an actual film, even though the prominence of the NT logo may lead you to think this is one of those live broadcasts from the London stage. After the arrest of Wright, writer Alecky Blythe went to Ipswich to interview some of the surviving sex workers and the residents of London Road, where Wright had briefly lived and where many of the women that he murdered worked as prostitutes. All the dialogue and the song lyrics (set to music by Adam Cork) are taken directly from her recordings of those interviews.
What is marvellous about London Road is that it is a true ensemble piece: it is the story of the community, not a few emblematic characters. Even better, Wright is never seen, and only the most minimal details of his crimes are outlined. In a society that glories in slaughter it’s a blessed relief to see a drama where people who aren’t killers or cops have some value beyond fodder.
But the songs are an issue. It is much more like opera than traditional musical theatre. Individual lines from the interviews are taken and repeated. The lines though are delivered with exactly the same faltering intonation and clumsy sentence structure. None of the ‘you knows’ and ‘likes’ are cut out. Celebrating the strength and fortitude of ordinary people in their own words is a noble, original and exciting idea but the repetition of their everyday inarticulacies makes the film sometimes feels like an officious teacher making students repeat a stupid remark out loud a hundred times in front of the class.
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