A powerful study into the five year police investigation into the Yorkshire Ripper, The Incident Room puts important voices first at the New Diorama Theatre
“I didn’t know Yorkshiremen had it in ’em”
Olivia Hirst and David Byrne’s The Incident Room was seen in Edinburgh last summer but it arrives at the New Diorama now in an expanded version with added interval (all the more opportunity to get one of the tasty Anzac cookies from the café). And most importantly for this blog’s purposes, it stars lovely Danny from Jumpers for Goalposts, aka the equally lovely Jamie Samuel (in a policeman’s uniform, just so you know).
But back to the matter at hand. The incident room of The Incident Room is the Millgarth Incident Room, the hub of the 1970s police manhunt for the serial killer dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper. But far from glorifying his crimes, the focus here is on the investigation itself, looking at a police force that has only just started to admit women into its ranks and also at the trials of running a major data-driven inquiry in pre-digital times.
And it is fascinatingly done. The towering filing cabinets of Patrick Connellan’s design are intermittently covered by video work from Zakk Hein, splicing in contemporaneous news reports as the five years of the investigation are covered, the roll call of murders and assaults sensitively and movingly shown through found objects. Co-directors Byrne and Beth Flintoff also use live video at crucial moments, highlighting the documentary evidence.
The choice to put Sergeant Megan Winterburn (an intensely committed Charlotte Melia) at the heart of the narrative also works exceptionally well. As the story unfolds in flashbacks, her position as an unreliable narrator offers manifold opportunities to comment on so much. The sexism – both institutional and personal – of the time, the mistakes made by the police teams and the regrets held by so many involved in this most horrific of cases.
Giving voice to Maureen Long, one of the women who survived an attack, also ensures the pointed focus, through a quietly shattering performance from Katy Brittain, who leaves us in no doubt as to the traumatising consequences not just of being attacked but of the lingering after-effects of a society (and press) determined to label her a victim. Always seeking to understand rather than absolve, it’s a compelling slant on the story and the attitudes that surrounded it, then and now.