Verbatim theatre takes the text generated from interviews with ‘real life’ people and turns it into dialogue. Phillip Ralph, the writer of Deep Cut, a play exploring the deaths of four army recruits in Surrey, describes it as a “form of theatre in which audiences perceive that they are getting at some kind of hidden ‘truth'”. Written by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork, London Road adapts their National Theatre play of the same name. It takes verbatim theatre into the terrain of musical theatre with
speech morphing in and out of song, unravelling the essence of the voices of its characters to emphasise that essential truth. L
ondon Road is set in Ipswich during the murders of five prostitutes by the serial killer Steve Wright in 2006. The city opens with streets filled with paranoia, the colloquialisms of real interviews highlighting that tension, every ‘um’ and ‘like’ given its own life and poetry. Introducing naturalism to musical theatre, usually so sleek and staged, effectively reminds the audience of the beauty, wisdom and contradictions found in everyday speech. It’s memorising and alleviates the alienation so often produced by super stagey musicals.
There’s no blood, not even as much as a glimpse of Wright, focussing solely on members of the community who were so traumatised by what happened. Many original cast members reprise their roles, along with an addition of star power from Olivia Coleman and a small, significant role from Tom Hardy. Performances are all excellently judged, relishing the opportunity to reveal emotion through this unusual use of the voice, each pause and stutter carefully adding to a curious, naturalistic rhythm. It occasionally feels too much like a stage production, with theatrical flourishes such as a neighbourhood flower box display at the end being a rare, overly polished moment in a film which is otherwise so careful to restrain itself and celebrate mundanity. A film comprised of Little Englanders speak-singing colloquialisms sounds like such a horrible idea, making it all the more remarkable as an experimental piece of musical cinema.
Review by David Rank
London Road is out now in the UK. Running time 91 mins. Certificate 15 (UK).