London Road is as compelling as it is unusual. Based on “The Ipswich Ripper,” a serial killer who killed five prostitutes in 2006, London Road became a stage musical comprised solely of testimonies made by people in the neighborhood. London Road is a musical literally from the perspective and direct words of the people who lived the events. Directed by Rufus Norris—who also directed the stage version—London Road adapts this strange musical to film, creating what might be the world’s first true crime musical. If this doesn’t make any sense, imagine 2010’s The Arbor, as if directed by Jacques Demy, and you’ll have some idea of what to expect with London Road.
Even more peculiar than its staging device is London Road’s focus on the neighborhood, rather than the actual crimes, the murderer, or the court case that ensued. London Road’s horrific crimes are seen from second parties—the neighbors of the murderer—who are terrified, curious, and annoyed with him. London Road never shows us the murderers or even the face of the murderer because the citizens of London Road themselves never see these things, either.
Despite its completely unique delivery system and structure, London Road never justifies its choices. Rather, the odd musical decision almost begs for a more basic telling of this story than what is presented. Turning this crime into a musical is a gimmick, not a revolutionary way to tell a horrific story.
Because of its lack of interest in the crimes at hand, London Road relies on the town’s judgmental and concerned citizens. The selfishness of this community provides London Road’s most unnerving moments, as some are more focused on how they’ll be seen as the neighbor of a murderer, while others are just pleased that the murderer has gotten rid of the prostitutes that cluttered their streets.
These observations simply showcase that this community is self-centered, and reiterates this point ad nauseam. The script by the play’s writer Alecky Blythe never allows us real access to any of the locals, treating them as a collective instead of as any real individuals. The few times that do provide focus on the singular provide some of London Road’s finest scenes. A cheerleading duo wanders around their town, looking at various men, discussing how literally anyone could be the murderer. Also in a surprising cameo, Tom Hardy plays a taxi driver whose encyclopedic knowledge of serial killers means he has to reassure his passengers that this solely does not make himself a murderer.
Even though London Road is brilliant in theory, it almost fully fails in practice. Even at little more than 90 minutes, London Road feels like it’s stretching out its idea and never gives its audience any genuine characters or plot. London Road clearly wants to speak to the vapidness of large communities in the face of tragedy, but doesn’t actually have anything to say about it. With little more than a concept, this is all style and no substance.