Album Review: London Road cast recording

“Begonias, and… petunias, and… um, impatiens and things”

Capitalising on the unexpected runaway success of London Road, the National Theatre have now released a cast recording of the verbatim musical by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork. I revisited the show last week – review can be read here – and so it was quite nice to be able to get this more permanent reminder. It is such an unconventional suite of music but as with anything, repeated exposure brings about a kind of familiarity and so the musical vocabulary used here has now been assimilated, its complexity less bamboozling now and a greater appreciation easier to reach.

The show looks at the sense of community that is built up amongst the residents of London Road in Ipswich as the impact of the murder of 5 prostitutes flows out around them: the road had been where the prostitutes touted for business and it eventually turned out that the murderer, Steve Wright, had recently moved into a house on their street. But the play avoids sensationalism and focusing on the murders and murderer by centring on this group of residents and how they felt as the murders were happening and then their lives turned upside down by the revelation that Wright was living in their midst and the media furore that surrounded the ensuing trial.

The nature of Blythe’s verbatim work means that she records interviews with real people and then has her actors repeat them word for word, right down to every hesitation and capturing all the inflections of the local accents. This is then set to Cork’s atonal score which defies definition of any simple sort, these are less songs but more passages of music inspired by the rhythms of the speech in which lines and phrases have been layered, repeated and counterpointed to create unexpectedly beautiful textures and harmonies out of everyday speech.

Having seen the show twice now, the music is very much working its way into my mind and so it makes for a very rewarding listen, recalling the moments of excellent stagecraft from the show and the incredible work of the cast, inhabiting these roles so very entirely and with complete compassion. It is still challenging though, there’s a few moments of longueur in the second half of the show around the trial where the interest dips a little. And I’m not sure if how it would strike you upon first listen without having seen the show – I’d be interested to know your reaction if you’ve bought it without having seen it. But as a record of one of the most innovative shows of the year, it is well worth the purchase and rumour has it that the show is now going to be recorded for release on DVD so its legacy may yet linger and deservedly so.

If you can only download one song, make it…London Road in bloom (but I think it is only available from the NT shop so no downloading actually possible)

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