A new musical about the serial killer Steve Wright who murdered five prostitutes in Ipswich might not sound like a hit for The National Theatre, but London Road is this year’s triumph. Its unprecedented success has led to an extension in The Cottesloe Theatre, pushing the current Double Feature shows into The Paint Frame, and naturally a cast recording which is now available.
I managed to get my hands on a copy of The London Road Cast Recording to relive the experience of the show once more. I was slightly resigned to thinking that the show wouldn’t translate as effectively through the cast recording as it did in the live show. The production isn’t quite a musical, but rather a fusing together of verbatim reflections of residents of London Road, where Steve Wright lived. The cast speak with tonal intonation, mimicking those that they represent, which is carefully layered across a score by Adam Cork.
Where London Road triumphs is in the deeply complex nature of the delivery of lines and songs. It really is hard to describe, but imagine the way you speak; every ‘um’ and ‘er’, pause and repetition is used to create rhymths and melodies that grow and repeat, building layers of spoken word over the music. The characters and songs are crafted with a level of precision rarely achieved in theatre. The cast recording really brings out layers and characters within the show. It’s not the easiest of listens it has to be said, mostly because London Road lacks the all-singing, all-dancing nature that other musicals have. Those who enjoy the work of minimalist artists such as John Adams and Phillip Glass will definately see the parrells to some of their operas in Cork’s repetitive layering within London Road.
The cast recording features all of the songs from the original production and included the original cast too, which is a blessing as they are all phenomenal. Opening with the AGM of London Road’s annual gardening ‘in bloom competition’, you immediately adjust to the style of singing. The lines acting as a dialogue between the cast. They’re simplistic but perfectly delivered.
As the songs roll into each other, you really get a sense of the power of the story. The song ‘London Road in bloom’ has a brilliantly catchy chorus “Begonias, and, Petruias and, um, impatience and thing”, which repeatedly returns amongst the cast, splitting into harmonies. Whilst the subject of gardening might not be the usual song to stay with you after a show, the message is excellent received; growing out of the seeds of troubled times comes a beautiful bloom of hope.
The recording doesn’t always stay so happy, songs such as ‘Everyone is very very nervous’ and ‘Ten weeks’ evoke the strange circumstances that those residents of London Road underwent as their street was broadcast to the world. A chilling rendition of ‘We’ve all stopped’ even manages to capture the affect the murders had upon women who worked as prostitutes in Ipswich. They might have stopped working the street but they still have “regulars”.
As a whole, London Road takes its listener on an unusual journey of media-fuelled frenzies and the disturbing nature of a serial killer without either speaking ill of the dead or creating a musical buzz. It’s breathtakingly real, the verbatim style of singing/spoken word brings the characters to life, so that as you listen, these characters loom into your mind and recall the characterisation of those on the stage. It’s a staggering achievement and one that anyone interested in hearing a completely different style of musical brought to the stage will enjoy.
The London Road Cast Recording is available from the NT Bookshop, and is being sold for £15.00 – You can buy it here.