The Theatreguide.London Review
Cottesloe Theatre Spring-Summer 2011; Olivier Theatre Summer 2012
This admirable experiment marries two theatrical modes, verbatim and musical, that you might think incompatible, with far more success than you'd expect - though I have to admit there's a lot of Dr. Johnson's dog about that judgement, being impressed less by its excellence than by the fact that it's accomplished at all.
Playwright Alecky Blythe uses the current mode of verbatim theatre, in which the script is not only based on the words of actual people, but on recordings of them, with the actors duplicating accents and speech rhythms, down to every er, um, pause and repetition.
(In her previous plays Blythe had the actors wear headphones, listening to the original recordings and parroting them. She explains in a programme note that the complications of music made her let this cast memorise their lines.)
Blythe and composer Adam Cork have set some of their verbatim dialogue to music, usually by finding the natural rhythm of a sentence or phrase and building on it through repetition, overlapping or even fugal structure, so a typical line might go 'You automatically think, you automatically think, that he might be the one, the one'.
To add to the challenge, the subject is an unlikely one. In 2006 a residential Ipswich street that had become the turf of prostitutes was rocked by a series of Ripper-style murders.
The play is built on the response of the residents, from the mix of fear and fascination to the discovery that the killer was a new neighbour, the fascination with the investigation and trial, and the attempt to renew the street's spirit and reputation afterwards.
The musical notes but doesn't harp on the irony that it took the murders to get the police to take complaints about the streetwalkers seriously, for social services to begin helping the girls and for the residents to develop any sense of community, forming a neighbourhood watch, quiz nights and a gardening competition.
Under Rufus Norris's direction a cast of eleven play five or six roles each, from neighbours to reporters to streetwalkers, with a smooth, clear and fast-moving flow.
Among the most effective musical numbers are a choral catalogue of flowers in the garden competition and a scene in which teenage girls get giggly over the thrill of being frightened of every man they pass.
One particularly strong bit of staging has a policeman criss-cross the stage with barrier tape while the residents try to live their lives in the shrinking spaces thus created.
Of course none of the music will stick in your mind afterwards, few of the characters have the opportunity of registering beyond their brief appearance, and even the neighbours aren't effectively individualised, so none of the performers really stands out.
And you might run out of patience with the constant fragmented sentences and repetitions generated by both the verbatim script and the conversion into songs.
So your reaction is likely to be delighted surprise that the experiment didn't fail, rather than finding it a particular success.
Receive alerts when we post new reviews