London Road: Film Review
Cast: Olivia Colman, Tom Hardy, Anita Dobson
Director: Rufus Norris
You wouldn't have thought that England's worst serial killer would have been fertile ground for a musical.
But then to be frank, London Road is not like anything you've ever seen before.
Mixing archive interviews, as performed by its acting talent and set to music, it's a slightly uneasy and weird movie experience that almost defies convention and explanation. It's the story of the residents of London Road in Ipswich in 2006, whose lives were changed when working girls started on their streets.
Unhappy at the prostitutes, the residents were even more perturbed to hear that five of them were killed and terrified to learn that the killer was one Steven Wright, who lived in London Road.
London Road was a successful musical, written by Alecky Blythe and directed by Rufus Norris, who's taken on this production and is probably the best person to have done so, being as au fait as he is with the verbatim theatre.
It's a clever device to take hooks and comments from interviews with the residents and turn them into lyrics with their speech patterns mimicked in the performance of the actors. But the slight issue with it on the big screen is that while the gimmick is clever, smart and original, it soon wears thin as it continues to play out.
Usually musicals work best when they hook into a few fully formed characters, giving the audience an insight and an opening into what the character's feeling. Unfortunately, London Road doesn't quite manage the same hook, with most of the residents emerging as an amorphous blob hard to differentiate from the others. But, in turning these residents into a Greek Chorus aimed at driving the exposition, the play is tremendously successful and admittedly, provides some surprise efforts at earworms. The way the music turns news bulletins, news reporters and expressions of fear and paranoia into onscreen ditties is wildly deft and comes out of nowhere.
Colman is perhaps the biggest name here to foreign audiences - with Tom Hardy getting a cameo as a cab driver singing in a falsetto and protesting that just because he knows about serial killers doesn't necessarily make him one.
If anything, London Road is to be applauded for its inventiveness - but its transition to the big screen represents something that's not quite worked or harnessed the livewire nature of a show. As the credits roll, the replaying of the actual interview soundbites is an unnecessary touch, a tacit moment of bragging which is unwarranted and destroys some of the cleverness of what's lyrically transpired.
Chalk London Road up to an interesting experiment; its story may not be enough to drive you along, but its surprising route to its final destination is a challenge to traditional musicals.