Theatre: London Road – Bristol Old Vic

On Thursday, while most of the British population were settled in front of the England-Uruguay game, I went over to Bristol Old Vic for one of the best pieces of theatre I have experienced for a long time. Bristol Old Vic Theatre School's production of Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork's 2011 musical London Road was utterly compelling from start to finish.

Set in 'small-town' Ipswich, the musical is based on interviews with residents of London Road taken after their lives were shaken up by the murders of five prostitutes by Steve Wright in 2006. It was difficult to know what to expect from a musical about murders.

It opened in the bustle of a local neighbourhood watch meeting. Dialogue and songs were set in the verbatim style – taken from and scored closely around naturalised speech – and soon revealed a clever and utterly absorbing brand of theatre. The pauses, ums and likes in the script were strengthened by the fact that the music's rhythm, pitch and timbre closely imitated them.

It is no wonder that the original production, shown at the National Theatre in 2011, received universally great reviews and numerous five-star ratings from national press.

The BOVTS actors lived up to the original, portraying brilliantly colourful characters and giving the music the conviction it deserves: the songs proved to be catchy and memorable despite the verbatim setting. The delicate subject was handled bravely but sensitively by this production.

The only thing, if anything, that was slightly weaker about the performance was the pit orchestra. The young players were generally very tight and accurate, but some of the textures could have been more subtle and fast passages handled more neatly. But, in terms of timing, they had it.

London Road finished yesterday. For the sake of those who haven't had a chance to see it, I hope it is picked up by another company soon: it's brilliant.



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