By Lori Bosworth
Violence impacts not only the lives of the victim and perpetrator; it creates a reverberating state of fear and insecurity in all people that it touches. What happens to a community that witnesses grossly violent acts within its environs? Critically acclaimed in the U.K., London Road, by playwright Alecky Blythe and composer Adam Cork, explores the aftermath of the actual serial murders of five prostitutes in the Town of Ipswich’s London Road. Canadian Stage launched the unlikely musical for its North American premiere at the Bluma Appel Theatre at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts in Toronto on January 23, 2014.
To accumulate material for her play, Blythe interviewed residents of London Road, located in the slow-paced bedroom town of Ipswich about their experiences after the murders were discovered. Her material paints a portrait of everyday people, everyday husbands and wives who don’t fully listen to each other, providing them with repetitive responses reflecting highly repetitive lives. Here are people who participate in weekly Bingo and cheer on the winner in the local gardening contest. In other words, people just like us.
Although the residents of London Road had long complained about women soliciting on their street, they resent when the media casts their usually peaceful town as a “red-light district.” They understandably detest the restriction to their freedom as a result of police barricades, security watches and a constant media presence outside their doors.
What is most striking about this musical is the lyric form: verbatim, whose goal it is to reflect the dialogue of the speakers to create what composer Adam Cork calls “a speech-like way of singing.” What results are songs that are a hybrid between speech and singing. Further, the songs such as “Everyone is Very Very Nervous” and “It Could Be Him” contain repetitive lines similar to those delivered by a Greek chorus, although in this case, sung individually. This original lyric form with its repetitiveness clearly conveys the anxiety of the community. In any event, the ensemble cast does this type of singing justice, displaying solid vocal harmonies.
London Road does not feature leading roles; the scenes focus equally on each individual in the ensemble cast, who play several roles. However, Fiona Reid as Julie reveals a brave choice as the judgmental neighbourhood busybody. Damien Atkins injects his role as the news reporter stuck on political correctness and winning gardener with some desperately needed humour. George Masswohl lends authority to his various roles, representing the voice of the community.
Judith Bowden’s set features glorious blooming flower baskets, cramped English living rooms and screen projections of the actual London Road, giving authenticity to the story. The ‘guilty’ buttons suspended above the stage were particularly effective in conveying the trial outcome. Voice & Dialect Coach Jane Gooderham did a stellar job of exacting the coastal dialects from the ensemble cast.
The orchestra in London Road is so integral to the story and thankfully, conductor Reza Jacobs’s orchestra features a stellar woodwind section and keyboards by Jacobs and David Atkinson, which successfully contribute to building tension and signalling mood changes.
When all is said and done, the community undergoes a metamorphosis and all are freshly revived to carry on with their predictable lives. Crime doesn’t always produce this type of cleansing effect so it’s a testament to the determination of this community to soldier on.
For its innovation and unusual treatment of a delicate subject, this is a must-see play.
Canadian Stage perform London Road at the Bluma Appel Theatre at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts, 27 Front Street East from January 19, 2014 to February 9, 2014. Tickets are $24 to $99.