About four years ago I met with the head of publicity at the National Theatre here in New York. She was in town to promote and celebrate One Man, Two Guvnors, playing on Broadway to crowds convulsed with laughter over its superb physical comedy (star James Corden took home the Tony Award that June). What I remember was her marveling over a show planning an encore run at the National: London Road. She described it as a sung-through musical whose libretto was taken verbatim from interviews. The story? In 2006, five prostitutes were murdered in the village of Ipswich (60 miles northeast of London), and police eventually arrested local man Steve Wright for the crimes. Playwright Alecky Blythe and composer Adam Cork interviewed the killer’s neighbors on London Road, and the edited text was shaped into a story that was set to music. Rufus Norris (now head of the NT) directed the stage production to critical raves. Characters shift in and out of a kind of plainsong, their banal (or profound) observations layering on top of each other to create a sonic mosaic of a community shattered by violence and ashamed by the glare of the media spotlight. We see ordinary English men and women at their best and worst, rebuilding the neighborhood while still excluding its most vulnerable members.
I never saw London Road live, and it didn’t tour to the kinds of venues you’d expect (BAM, for one), but now we can finally see it at the movies. This Friday you’ll have six opportunities to catch a screening at City Cinemas Village East at Second Ave and 12th St, from 11am to 10:40pm. You can purchase tickets here. (For other cities, check here.)
From a screener I was able to see how powerful the material is, gracefully and potently adapted into the 2015 film also directed by Norris. The excellent cast includes Tom Hardy as a creepy taxi driver obsessed with profiling serial killers; Olivia Colman as a housewife whose empathy shows its limits—shockingly; and Kate Fleetwood as a dead-eyed sex worker who watches townsfolk transform themselves in the wake of the bloodshed. You'll find yourself enchanted and horrified by turns—and the juxtaposition of beautiful singing with grim social commentary may not be your cup of tea, but if you want to see a brilliant outer edge of musical theater, we recommend a walk down this dark street.
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