The Shattered Globe Theatre group performs the Alecky Blythe / Adam Cork musical at Theatre Wit this month. The show has been so popular that the Theater has extended its run two extra weeks to June 11. I caught the Friday night performance.
"London Road" revolves around the community's reaction to a series of murders in the small city of Ipswich in eastern England. We never witness the murderer or the murders. The show focuses instead on the reactions of the townspeople. They live in fear for their safety; they follow the police hunt and the ensuing trial; they voice their opinions on the victims - all of whom were prostitutes. The play takes the form of a documentary set to music.
Blythe spent months interviewing Ipswich citizens about the crimes, and he used the text of those interviews as the lyrics of his songs. He retained the text verbatim, including filler words such as "like" and "um." But he set them to music, and his singers often repeated significant lines through multiple verses. The effect is often hypnotic, although some songs continue longer than necessary.
Because each member of the 11-person ensemble cast plays dozens of parts, the audience experiences no character development. Instead, the character of the town itself evolves throughout the ordeal of the attacks.
Actors quickly switch roles, and women often play the parts of men, sometimes making the play difficult to follow. But the performers pulled it off. Their singing, speaking, and body movements conveyed the emotions of each line. The set was minimalist in the extreme. No props adorned the stage and the play was visually enhanced only by a set of video screens above the performers. Most of the urban scenes were shown upside down, rotating at the beginning and end to display a right-sided “London Road” street sign. The actors often retreated into a small chamber in each corner of the stage and the audience saw only a live video feed of their performance.
This was the first professional performance of "London Road" in North America. It will likely not be the last.