‘The murder of five sex workers from Ipswich does not sound like the standard premise for a musical. It is, however, the focus of Alecky Blythe’s gritty London Road, presented here by Queenside Productions with great sensitivity and charm.
London Road deals with the reaction of a local community to a bout of serial killings in 2006. Based on the book of the same name, the script and lyrics are taken verbatim from interviews with real people who lived on London Road at the time. The production and lyrics held as true to life as possible, with every cough, slur and ‘umm’ left in. The cast dealt well with an extremely difficult libretto, creating characters, relationships and an atmosphere that felt all too real.
Through a subtle breaking of the fourth wall (aided by an ingenious programme) the audience are brought straight into the centre of a neighbourhood-watch meeting where Julie, played by Emily Albury, sets the scene. Albery is a joy to watch throughout as she confidently acts a woman far beyond her years. Her posture, awkward gestures and voice all contribute to this convincing and endearing character. Her rapport with the audience made her final interview particularly impactful. As she declared sympathy and even respect for the serial killer a stillness spread through the audience, reflecting the power of what had been said.
Nor was this musical all doom and gloom. Many comic moments helped to balance the macabre. Jan and Tim, played by Jessica Bradley and Amschel de Rothschild respectively, were a constant source of laughter: the former persistently talking over her soft-mannered partner.
All the actors played their various roles superbly throughout, each performing with such conviction that the occasional moments where accents slipped were easily forgiven. Miles Philips and Ela Portnoy achieved an especially sophisticated level of differentiation between characters, with the latter’s ranging from a jittery school girl to a motherly and caring wife. Special mention must also go to Max Reynolds who played his many characters with ease and held the performance together throughout. His slightly goofy Gordon won the hearts of the audience from beginning to end.
The use of staging was minimal and suggestive. With little more than a table, a few chairs and a choice selection of props the audience were transported to several locations during the performance. The blue lights and white, forensic style, gazebo that housed the band also helped to set the scene and atmosphere. The musicians, of course, must not go unmentioned. Conducted by the Musical Director, Sophia Hall, they confidently navigated a tricky and unusual score with faultless timing. There were some slight technical issues with the sound and microphones meaning that, at times, the actors could not be heard over the music but despite this the numbers remained enjoyable.
London Road may not seem like a typical piece of musical theatre but the sensitivity with which the script was handled ensured that it managed to keep both its integrity and fun – an extremely enjoyable, if unconventional evening.’