Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Theatre: London Road

London Road is a unique and innovative "verbatim-style" musical that feels like a cross between watching an opera and a documentary movie.  In 2006, the playwrights taped a series of interviews with the townspeople of Ipswich, U.K. (about 2 hours north-east of London) during the time that they were living through the real-life criminal investigation of a serial killer who had murdered five prostitutes so far.  The lyrics and spoken dialogue of the "musical" are comprised of the words contained in the interviews, taken verbatim including all hesitations, nervous tics,  coughs or giggles, and pausitory terms such as "umm..", "er..", "you know", or "like".  Great lengths are taken to capture the English accents and manner of speech of the actual people being portrayed.

The story is told entirely from the point of view of the townspeople, especially the residents of the neighbourhood called "London Road" where the murders were concentrated.  They sing of their fears in songs such as "Everyone is Very Very Nervous" and "It Could Be Him".  The latter song is sung both from the perspective of the women who are inspecting every male suspiciously, and from the local males who feel like they are being judged as they go about their own business.  The residents complain about how their lives have been turned upside down by the events, both by police activity during the investigation and by the invasive members of the media trying to get the inside scoop.

 However the neighbours also find themselves bonding and forming a stronger sense of community, as they are drawn together to create a Neighbourhood Watch group and then continue to gather for social events such as Christmas parties and gardening contests.

Although the killer is caught, tried and convicted in the course of the play, he is never shown and neither are any of the victims.  In addition to their main roles as London Road residents, each cast member also portrays a variety of smaller roles including shop proprietors, politicians, policemen, members of the press, teenagers, and even other prostitutes who sing about how the murders of their coworkers have affected them.

The show seems like an opera in that it uses repetition in the phrases for emphasis, and the music and songs sound more operatic than the typical musical.  The repetition was actually advantageous for me, since I have difficulty discerning accents, so hearing the same lyrics multiple times gave me more than one opportunity to catch the words.

London Road is very similar in tone to the only real opera that we've ever seen, which is the English language modern piece called Nixon in China.  While we really did not care for Nixon in China and hated all the mindless repetition, we actually liked and appreciated it in London Road.  I tried to think about why this was, and came to the following conclusions:

The story in London Road is much more compelling, with better songs and melodies.  Although the lyrics are repetitive, they actually advance the plot.  It also has some funny moments to lighten the mood, including one hilarious sequence where a reporter is trying to film a news article about the killer without using the word "semen" on network television.  His cameraman unhelpfully offers "Love Juice" amongst other suggestions.  In addition to being conceptually different and therefore exciting, we just found London Road to be much more entertaining than Nixon in China.  We're still not sure that we like actual opera, but we did like this show.

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