A serial killer is suspected to live amongst the residents of Ipswich, UK when the holiday season is darkened by the murder of five sex workers. The town’s safety and reputation are at risk, and national attention only amplifies the danger lurking on London Road. Using verbatim theatre, London Road creators Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork adapt real interviews into a musical documentary that explores all the ways tragedy encouraged a community to come together and expose its negligent prejudice. Shattered Globe Theatre’s extraordinary ensemble cast, directed by Elizabeth Margolius, relives the horrifying events that rocked Ipswich between 2006 and 2008 with compassion, humor, and awe-inspiring skill.
London Road relies on the actors to authentically embody the diverse characters whose interviews make up the production’s entire text. This lofty challenge is executed masterfully by a tight-knit ensemble that works as a team to make a town full of strangers feel familiar. Each performer portrays multiple characters and all effectively change their personalities in the blink of an eye. There is a wealth of talent packed in the cast of eleven and every performance shines. Countless breakout moments bring a beautiful dimension to the production where joy and horror live side-by-side.
In addition to the impressive character work, the vocal performances of the challenging score earn even more praise for this accomplished cast. Each song begins with a clear recitation of the original interview. That same text is then repeated in variations with layered harmonies so that every “um” and “like” becomes complicated and compelling. The rhythm mimics that of the spoken interviews to highlight irregular speech patterns with thrilling results. Music Director Andra Velis Simon conducts the simultaneously eerie and electrifying musical that rejects traditional melodies, opting instead for unpredictable instrumentals. It is impossible to leave humming any one song, and that’s a good thing!
Director Elizabeth Margolius uses movement to emphasize the strengths of London Road’s verbatim techniques and roots her choreography in everyday, unremarkable gestures. She begins with a casual action: awkwardly bending down to scratch a leg. This same gesture is then adopted by others and each subsequent movement becomes more or less exaggerated. A trained musician herself, Margolius approaches the physical language of the production with the same intention as the musical variations found in the repeated lyrics. The bodies on stage are used to punctuate the text, with songs like “Everyone is Very Very Nervous” heightening the anxieties with tight, rigid formations, and “Cellular Material” reveling in physical comedy.
The arena configuration with audiences surrounding all four sides transforms the stage into a town square. Jack Magaw’s clever set design makes the most of all four corners with built-in “windows” covered by functioning blinds. The deceptively simple set pieces become spectacular in how they are used throughout the performance and integrated into Smooch Medina’s ambitious projection design. The stage is flanked on its longer sides by two projectors that are connected to five live-feed video cameras, four of which film on-screen interviews from behind the closed blinds. A fifth on-stage camera broadcasts breaking news on either end of the set. The exposed, intimate venue at Theater Wit leaves little room for error, which makes the successful execution of this multi-media set an absolute marvel.
When not screening the live-feed video, the projectors feature inverted images of Ipswich and this distorted vision of the town is reflected in every element of the production’s design. Costumes by Austin Winters capture the mid-2000s with nostalgic pieces to create specific silhouettes that can adorn a variety of characters. The moody lighting design by Levi Wilkins establishes a dark tone that permeates the landscape and is also juxtaposed by the spring colors that brighten Ipswich during London Road in Bloom, Ipswich’s annual garden competition. Sound design by Christopher Kriz supports the theatrical orchestration with realistic audio and incorporates excerpts from the original interviews.
London Road thoughtfully taps into the popularity of true crime stories that dominate television and podcasts without relying on the cheap voyeurism that is often associated with the genre. True crime narratives too often characterize serial killers like classic horror movie monsters and even promote fandoms around real humans who have done real evil. London Road instead focuses on the people witnessing the terror in their own backyard. Everything from the performance to the design reinforces the audience’s role as an onlooker, however, London Road resists the easy tactic to label its townspeople as either heroes or villains. Rather the verbatim production simply presents the complicated thoughts and actions of a community in fear. It takes an empathetic team to bring this dark tale to the stage. London Road at Shattered Globe Theatre is a captivating display of what this ensemble company does best.
London Road is now extended at Theater Wit until June 11, 2023.
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Rengin Altay, Dodge/Ensemble
Christina Gorman, June/Ensemble
Alani Gross-Roberts, Helen/Ensemble
Rebecca Jordan, Rosemary/Ensemble
Tina Muñoz Pandya, Jan/Ensemble
Steve Peebles, Tim/Ensemble
Linda Reiter, Alfie/Ensemble
Steven Schaeffer, Gordon/Ensemble
Leslie Ann Sheppard, Ron/Ensemble
Anne Sheridan Smith, Julie/Ensemble
Kendal Wilson, Terry/Ensemble
Diego Salcedo, Electric and Acoustic Guitar
Mike Matlock, Flute, Clarinet, Alto Sax
Joe Sanchez, Clarinet, Alto Sax, Tenor Sax
Lara Ochoa Regan, Clarinet, Soprano Sax, Baritone Sax
Andra Velis Simon, Conductor, Keyboard
Alecky Blythe, Book and Lyrics
Adam Cork, Music and Lyrics
Elizabeth Margolius, Direction and Movement
Andra Velis Simon, Music Direction
Jack Magaw, Scenic Design
Austin Winter, Costume Design
Levi Wilkins, Lighting Design
Smooch Medina, Projection Design
Christopher Kriz, Sound Design
Shayna Patel, Props Designer and Scenic Charge
Sammi Grant, Dialect Coach
Daren Leonard, Associate Director
Richie Vavrina, Production Manager
Tina M. Jach, Production Stage Manager
Faramade Oladapo, Assistant Stage Manager
Photo by Michael Brosilow (front, l to r): Rengin Altay, Christina Gorman, Steven Schaeffer, Alani Gross-Roberts, and Leslie Ann Sheppard with the cast of Shattered Globe Theatre’s U.S. premiere of London Road.