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Review: ‘London Road’ is paved with innovation and a few potholes (Includes first-hand account)

Combining genres can have mixed results, but when it works the effect can be profound. The 2000s has seen several mash-ups of horror or the macabre with the traditionally brighter and uplifting musical. Repo! The Genetic Opera and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street come to mind as examples of genre blending working out wonderfully. But what about less sexy narratives, such as a small town murder mystery? And what if creators took it one step further and used real-life scripts to compose their lyrics? London Road does this and more to produce a unique, tuneful account of a community’s shocking discovery.

One morning in 2006 the residents of Ipswich awoke to the news that the bodies of five prostitutes had been found nearby. Little else was known except that there may be a murderer living amongst them. Everyone began looking at their neighbours suspiciously and the police canvassed the area looking for a suspect. When it was discovered the murderer lived on London Road — a quiet suburban street recently favoured by prostitutes — the shock was substantial. No one really seemed to know the newcomer, but it rattled and fascinated them all the same. Following the trial, people tried to revitalize the neighbourhood and erase any trace of the horrors that may have occurred in that house.

During the investigation and trial, many of the residents were interviewed about the crimes in which they candidly described their feelings. Writers Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork then took snippets from their answers, set them to music and composed a full-length musical describing the events and mood — first for the stage, then the screen. The result is quite fascinating, particularly when one compares the lyrics to the actual interviews played over the end credits since the language is identical. The downside to restricting their words to the ones spoken by the residents is the songs are highly repetitive; though they are consequently catchy as well. True to the sombre storyline, the choreography is subtle and often just involves the cast standing in unison.

None of the salacious details of the murders are sung as even the reporters covering the trial are compelled to describe the boring suit the accused wore to court. Therefore, it’s almost like getting a summary of events but in long form. This approach isn’t ideal for this rather banal tale of a serial killer as even the music begins to get a bit tiresome due to the constant repetition. Nonetheless, the actors are at home with their mostly ordinary characters who are understandably upset by these events, which may in some part be due to the inclusion of the original stage cast… unfortunately Tom Hardy‘s cameo as a serial killer-obsessed cab driver has him singing in a much higher pitch than his normally deep voice, which just seems unnatural even though his contribution is interesting.

However, even the flaws cannot diminish the innovation demonstrated in this script and the feeling with which it’s performed.

Director: Rufus Norris
Starring: Olivia Colman, Clare Burt and Rosalie Craig

Written By

Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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