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London Road review at Cottesloe National London

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There’s another serial killer on the loose right now in New York, with the remains of at least ten women found in the environs of Jones Beach. Four of the victims so far were, according to a recent report in The Guardian, prostitutes who had been hired for their services via the website Craigslist. But five years ago another story of the serial killing of women working as prostitutes in the more conventional route of soliciting on a public road emerged far closer to home in Ipswich – with a 48-year-old forklift truck driver Steven Wright, who rented a flat at 79 London Road near where the women plied their trade, subsequently found guilty.

This grim but compelling story is being told in a new piece of verbatim theatre, in which writer and theatre-maker Alecky Blythe started visiting the scene even before an arrest was made to collect testimonies from people affected. As subsequently developed under the auspices of the National Theatre Studio, and now bursting into arresting, affecting life at the Cottesloe Theatre, it has seen her using her now familiar techniques of creating documentary theatre out of live interviews, but also breaking her own mould in interesting ways.

First, she and her director Rufus Norris have ditched her previous technique of having the actors listen to the original interview tapes on headphones while recreating the lines they are hearing back to the audience, which always struck me as an unnecessary distraction. Secondly, she has newly worked with composer Adam Cork to set many of those interviews to a jagged, insistent musical score, which creates texture and a commentary all of its own.

The result, which is also the National’s first staging of an originally created piece of British music theatre since Jerry Springer – the Opera in 2003, is totally and absorbingly different. By turns disturbing and surprising, haunting and harrowing, it is also frequently unexpectedly funny and ultimately even uplifting – it’s above all a story of community renewal in the face of appalling tragedy.

Brought to a quite thrillingly inhabited personal life by a superb ensemble cast of 11 actors, who play one main character each plus 52 other parts between them across the evening, this is an innovative and challenging show that could not be further from the likes of Betty Blue Eyes, but likewise portrays small-town life, with stand-out work from Nick Holder, Kate Fleetwood, Clare Burt, Rosalie Craig, Hal Fowler and Paul Thornley among others that charge up their characters with magnificent precision and depth.

Production Information

Cottesloe, National, London, April 7-June 18

Alecky Blythe (book and lyrics), Adam Cork (music and lyrics)
National Theatre
Rufus Norris
Nick Holder, Nicola Sloane, Kate Fleetwood, Rosalie Craig, Duncan Wisbey, Clare Burt, Hal Fowler, Paul Thornley, Howard Ward, Claire Moore, Michel Schaeffer
Running time
2hrs 15mins

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