James Ryan Gobuty
Canadian Stage’s production of London Road is a unique fusion of verbatim-documentary theatre and musical theatre. Playwright Alecky Blythe and composer Adam Cork combine their respective strengths to tell the story of the deaths of five young prostitutes and the effect it has on the surrounding community. Though London Road is certainly a milestone in terms of musical theatre production, the documentary aspects become problematic by the second act, thus, leaving this critic with a bad taste in his mouth.
Alecky Blythe’s use of the verbatim technique is fascinating. Blythe spent countless hours with the residents of London Road recording their recounts of the horrific murders that took place and the effect these murders had on the larger community. These recordings are used word for word to construct the script of the play. Even more incredible is the way in which Adam Cork was able to then translate the verbatim script to music, creating a musical theatre experience unlike any other; it is imbued with a staccato style that maintains the verisimilitude of the residents’ speech. Combined with the Canadian Stage team, these artists were able to achieve an amalgamation between documentary and musical theatre that this critic had previously thought impossible.
Judith Bowden’s set design is excellent. The panels built in upstage and the platforms that slide on and off the stage create versatility in the set design that is a perfect complement to the doubling in the acting. When the panels are open, a backdrop of London road itself is exposed and this backdrop extends into the horizon. Conversely, when closed, they facilitate the creation of indoor space; they allow the audience to experience London Road as the residents do, from every angle. Special kudos should be given for the garden scenes, in which dozens of lovely floral arrangements descend from the sky, developing the feeling on stage of quaint suburban life.
Congratulations must to be given to director Jackie Maxwell and the entire ensemble. The larger than life stage world always feels balanced, showing great attention to the use of space. Furthermore, the character development and accent work is spot on, creating strong, believable and relatable characters.
Despite all there is to praise about this show, there is one overwhelmingly problematic aspect. The play is almost entirely uncritical of its subjects. Though there is indeed one powerful moment in the second act in which the nobility of these characters is called into question, it is largely subsumed by the play as a whole. The plight of the London Road community seems to become less and less captivating when considering how little attention and sympathy the play gives to the actual victims of the crime — the prostitutes.
Canadian Stage’s production of London Road is definitely a must see show. The play is innovative and entertaining, and though it may be thematically problematic as it goes on, it starts a conversation on a serious issue, which is valuable in its own right.
London Road is on stage at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 front St.E), Tuesday through Sunday until February 9. Tickets are available from $24-99 (with $15 tickets for those under 30) at www.canadianstage.com or by phone: 416-368-3110
photo credit: David Hou