by Lynn on February 5, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

London   Road

At the Bluma Appel Theatre, Toronto, Ont. Written by Alecky Blythe. Music by Adam Cork. Directed by Jackie Maxwell. Musical director, Reza Jacobs. Movement by Valerie Moore. Designed by Judith Bowden. Lighting by Kevin Lamotte. Sound by John Lott. Starring: Sean Arbuckle, Damien Atkins, Ben Carlson, Michelle Fisk, Deborah Hay, George Masswohl, Julain Molnar, Glynis Ranney Fiona Reid, Steve Ross, Shawn Wright.

Produced by Canadian Stage. Plays until February 9.

The Canadian Stage production of London Road, is complex, stylish, beautifully produced in every way and a triumph for all concerned. And it’s a musical on the most unlikely of subjects—the murder of five prostitutes in the small English town of Ipswich.

In 2006 the quiet lives of the inhabitants of Ipswich were turned upside down when the bodies of five local prostitutes were found. Those most affected were people who lived on London Road. The killer lived at #79 for 10 weeks, staking out the place, plotting, planning and putting his murderous ideas into reality.

The media descended on the little town. The pressure on those people on London Road and how they coped with everything that was thrown at them is the basis for the play with music. Playwright Alecky Blythe extensively interviewed the people on tape who lived on London Road. She edited the transcripts but kept the stops and starts of their conversation; each ehm, urm, uh, and other linguistic ticks we have when we speak to each other. This is called ‘verbatim theatre.’ And then she teamed up with celebrated composer, Adam Cork who set the dialogue to the music.

The result represents a deeply complex story that delves into the street of neighbours; how they bonded because of the drama; formed an association to beautify their street to show that one man on the street might be a murderous loner, but the rest of them got along and helped each other out. You see how they all deal with the moral dilemma of the murder of the prostitutes. They know it’s wrong to kill anybody, but secretly they were glad the murder was responsible for getting rid of them. It’s quite chilling to hear one of the characters sing that very thought, as if the dead women were expendable garbage. When I first saw the premiere production in London, it was chilling to hear that line but of course because the characters are so complex you are constantly fluctuating on that fence about who is right and who is not.

Director Jackie Maxwell and her design team set the standard immediately: set and costumes, Judith Bowden; lighting by Kevin Lamotte; sound by John Lott and movement by Valerie Moore.

In the backdrop is a projection of the actual street,  London   Road. Huge panels rotate silently, changing the scene or bring on inhabitants. Set pieces, a chair and table, a platform etc., all slid on without a sound. That smooth efficiency in a spooky way represents the smooth and silent way the serial killer infiltrated that community, kept to himself so that no one noticed him, and began killing prostitutes.

The cast of eleven handles this dazzlingly difficult material with aplomb. They were ably coached by Reza Jacobs, the musical director of the piece. The cast needed to be not only gifted musicians (singers) but they also had to act in sometimes more than one part and make each characterization different and distinct.

George Masswohl plays Ron, a bear of a man who is the head of the neighbourhood association. He is self-effacing, reticent, and unassuming. As Julie, a mover and a shaker in the community, Fiona Reid is appropriately awkward for a woman not used to attention, but obviously revelling in it. Ben Carlson plays Tim, a man who usually tries in vain to get a word in edgewise when his wife is speaking.

London   Road is a supremely challenging piece of theatre for both the cast and the audience. It tells a harrowing story in which most people will think of Robert Picton and the women he killed in British Columbia. But it is also a huge accomplishment and probably one of the best productions of theatre in the city right now. It should be seen.

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