The Incident Room

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
The Incident Room, Edinburgh Fringe New Diorama, 2019
© Richard Davenport

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Visually impressive docu-drama about the Yorkshire Ripper investigation

This review is from the Edinburgh Fringe 2019; ‘The Incident Room’ is a longer version that transfers to the New Diorama in February 2020.

There’s a surprisingly large amount of true crime in Edinburgh this festival season. Some of it – Milo Rau’s ferocious ‘Le Reprise’ leaps to mind – is pretty out there. But ‘The Incident Room’ from Olivia Hirst and New Diorama boss David Byrne, is pretty straight-down-the-line stuff, and is being rewarded by bountiful audiences in a room at the Pleasance that’s noticeably larger than its imminent London home of the Diorama.

This docu-drama about the effort to catch the Yorkshire Ripper feels big, too, thanks to Patrick Connellan’s extraordinary set. It’s a gigantic wall of filing cabinets that shimmer and shifts under Zakk Hein stunning digital design which becomes increasingly disorientating as the investigation – which pooled the talents of several Yorkshire forces into the Milgarth incident room in Leeds – drags agonisingly on.

What ‘The Incident Room’ is very good at is telling you the facts. Over 90 minutes, Byrne and co-director Beth Flintoff’s production gives us a great sense of the gruelling six-year police operation, a litany of hard work and dead ends that was in essence a failure: Peter Sutcliffe was of course caught, but it had little bearing on the operation to catch him.

It’s a gripping enough dramatic recreation, but a touch sloggy: it feels like there’s probably a more incisive play in all this. Hirst and Byrne have chosen to focus the story on Sergeant Megan Winterburn (Charlotte Melia), who appeared to be one of the more competent officers on the case. We see her frustrations as she fails to win promotions that male peers received, or is given subtly demeaning duties clearly based upon her gender. It’s not accurate to say it feels like she might have cracked the case if treated better; but it’s another layer of frustration piled onto an already intensely frustrating case. Ultimately, though, she’s just the most prominent cog in a huge, wheezing police machine – we never really feel like it’s her story.

Although it had a different focus, more orientated towards the victims, it does feel like the recent BBC documentary ‘A Very British Crime Story’ covered most of the nuts and bolts of this. That’s not to say that ‘The Incident Room’ is invalid. But it feels opposed to really delving into the tragedy and poetry within this story.


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