Not all great artistic experiments translate into a great art. London Road is a musical that is unlike any other. After years of interviews with the citizens of Ipswitch following a rash of murders in their sleepy little town, Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork used the exact words of the citizens and crafted a musical telling of their fears and renewed civic pride. On stage, London Road was a critical darling, a daring artistic gamble that paid off. Much of the stage show’s cast returns as does director Rufus Norris in the film adaptation of London Road, an ambitious but underwhelming cinematic experiment that seems as if it lost all potency in its direct transition to the big screen.
In 2006, Steve Wright (not to be confused with the comedian Stephen Wright) committed a series of killings, murdering five prostitutes in Ipswitch. The murders sent shockwaves through the quaint little town, and the years’ worth of interviews provided the basis for this experimental musical. At first, London Road is about the suspicion that spreads throughout the neighborhood. Once Wright is apprehended, it then turns into a story about the media and people’s ability to be wrapped up in sensationalized stories. Finally, it all comes to an end with a revitalization effort, a community that comes together and improves in the wake of a great tragedy.
There are some interesting thematic ideas floating about London Road, but none of them seem to rise to the forefront. First and foremost, though, London Road is a musical without a single song that’s memorable in the slightest. The fact that most of the songs come across as some kind of atonal form of characters talking over each other hinders everything that occurs in the story – it makes sense for the media segments, a cacophony of talking heads, but it doesn’t work elsewhere in the least. Nor is there a visual sense to accompany the music. The imagery is drab with much of the color desaturated and little in the way of stunning choreography.
The fact that London Road is an ensemble with so many different characters rotating in and out of the story none of its cast really gets a chance to shine. Probably the most prominent of the cast is Olivia Colman as a concerned suburbanite, worried about the influence of the town’s prostitution and grisly murders would have on her own teenage daughters. But other than that, it’s a collection of supporting characters with completely forgettable names and characteristics. Don’t let the marketing fool you into thinking that Tom Hardy plays a prominent role in London Road. Hardy appears only a couple of times in the movie and probably has all of five minutes of screen time, and that’s an incredibly generous estimate.
I’ve never seen a musical like London Road, but just because the movie is doing something different doesn’t make it particularly good. The songs are as chaotic and unfocused as the storytelling, and the stifled direction never allows the material to come to life. It’s hard not to respect the audacity of the creative team behind London Road in creating an unusual musical. The idea of London Road is much more interesting than anything on the screen, be it visually or audibly. Sometimes certain things just work better on the stage than the screen.
An audacious musical unlike any other, London Road has all the ambition and none of the execution in its muddled recounting of a serial killer’s reign of terror in 2006 England.