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You are here: Home Theatre Reviews & Features 2013-14 Reviews Toronto Toronto Toronto Theatre Review: Canadian Stage's North American Premiere of LONDON ROAD a Five-Star Musical Documentary
Thursday, 06 February 2014 20:49

Toronto Theatre Review: Canadian Stage's North American Premiere of LONDON ROAD a Five-Star Musical Documentary

Written by
Deborah Hay, Damien Atkins and Fiona Reid (l-r) Deborah Hay, Damien Atkins and Fiona Reid (l-r) Photo: David Hou.

And the National Theatre of Great Britain does it again! London Road is yet another brilliant piece of theatre, in this case musical theatre. It found its way to Toronto via the Canadian Stage Company.

This script initially refers to the true story of five prostitutes who were murdered in the peaceful rural town of Ipswich in England in 2006. But it soon becomes obvious that this is not where we're headed, since this play is not primarily about the murdered women or even about the murderer. It ultimately deals with people in the community of Ipswich, their thoughts and reactions to the tragedy. We see how the townsfolk pull together in order to better understand the horrific event and deal with it positively.

This is a spectacular ensemble production. Eleven extremely talented cast members, some classical actors, others from the world of musical theatre,  portray over 60 characters, brilliantly delineating each character in their particular dialect. The actors can sing and the singers can act. This entire ensemble flawlessly capture all the rhythms, musicality, cadence & nuances of the dialects in this particular part of England. What a tribute to the actors and to their voice and dialect coach, Jane Gooderham.

This is innovative theatre. Strictly speaking, it's not an opera or your typical Broadway musical. It's a hybrid. More of a documentary piece of theatre put to music. Something akin to The Laramie Project meeting Phillip Glass' Einstein On the Beach. Musically, there are definite echoes of Phillip Glass' synchopated, serial-style music, where the dialogue is alternately spoken and/or sung. And to add to the experiment, unlike most plays, the cast addresses the audience, thereby replicating their conversation with the interviewer. It's a challenging musical designed for an audience prepared to look beyond theatre as purely entertainment.

This experimental work can easily stand on its own as a superb piece of musical theatre. But your appreciation of what has been accomplished by all involved, will surely be enhanced if you understand the process involved in the creation of the script as well as in rehearsals. This information is prominently outlined in the theatre lobby as well as in the program.

In brief; Playwright Alecky Blythe's recorded extensive interviews with the residents of London Road and made into a script consisting of the original dialogue, which she insists must be accurately reproduced by the actors, VERBATIM! The actors are directed to capture the original delivery and must do so without losing the honesty/essence of each character.

As for composer Adam Cork, his songs had to set the original dialogue, again verbatim and with no rhyming, etc, to music using the same principles..original speech patterns, etc. And he accomplishes this in a truly unique manner, in an inspiring new approach to song writing, no simple task.

In rehearsal, the actors listened to the taped voices of the original characters for hours, absorbing all aspects of the people, their personalities, their choice of words, cadence, tone, etc. The company learned how to mimic, but not superficially. They had to penetrate beyond the superficial mimic in order to  make each character their own and honest.

An example of how dialogue and lyric mix and flow; at one point, when Damien Atkins as a television reporter struggling to write an update on Wright’s trial for a noon-hour newscast is informed that he must not use the words “sex workers”, or any other euphemisms or journalistic clichés, he says, “Can’t use the word ‘semen’ at lunchtime and I can’t use it at 6 o’clock,” he then sings in frustration. “I can use it at ten o’clock, but I can’t use it before teatime.”

The immensely talented Reza Jacobs, as musical director, played a major role keeping the company focused and helping them stay true to the musical  spirit of this exceptional production. He not only assembled and directed an extraordinary eight piece orchestra consisting of Toronto's top musicians, he cleverly coped with the experimental aspects of this production by integrating and blending the music, dialogue, lyrics, actors and musicians into one coherent and spectacular whole.

Director Jackie Maxwell, who was lured away from her normal duties as artistic director of the Shaw Festival staged this production appropriately simply, yet brilliantly. This is without a doubt her finest work.

The set, by Judith Bowden, consists primarily of life-size photos of the homes on London Road, in Ipswich, arranged in three-dimensional fashion covering the entire up-stage area and is, pardon the pun, "picture" perfect.

Bowden's equally perfect costume choices consistently helped the actors move convincingly, effortlessly and in a flash from one character to another.

Lighting by Kevin Lamotte and sound design by John Lott, were also perfectly integrated into this almost flawless production.

My one and only complaint; following the trial scene and the revealling of the verdict, we hear the townsfolk express a plethora of opinions concerning this horrific experience, some of them sensitive and thoughtful, one in particular, extremely right wing ugly. The playwright has inserted a scene involving three prostitutes that is totally out of context. These women raise a number of fascinating sex worker issues that are, on their own merit, intelligent discourse and possibly another script for a different play. BUT this scene is in no way connected to the major thrust or theme of this play.

This fact not withstanding, London Road is absolutely worth seeing since it's intelligently, cleverly and refreshingly written, produced & performed.

Written by: Alecky Blythe and London Tony Award-winning composer Adam Cork
Directed by: Jackie Maxwell

January 23 to February 9, 2014

Tues through Sat at 8 p.m. with matinees on Wed at 1:30 p.m., and Sat and Sun at 2 p.m. 
The performance is approximately two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission.
Tickets from $24 to $99 are available online, by phone at 416.368.3110 or in person at the box office.
For details visit
Facebook: Canadian Stage
Twitter: @CanadianStage; #csLondon #LondonRoad 

A Canadian Stage production and North American premiere  
Production Sponsor: TD Bank Group

Sean Arbuckle                                     
Damien Atkins                                     
Ben Carlson                                          
Michelle Fisk                                       
Deborah Hay                                       
George Masswohl
Julain Molnar
Glynis Ranney
Fiona Reid
Steve Ross
Shawn Wright

Creative Team:
Created by: Alecky Blythe (playwright) and Adam Cork (composer)
Director: Jackie Maxwell
Music Director: Reza Jacobs
Movement Director: Valerie Moore
Set and Costume Designer: Judith Bowden
Lighting Designer: Kevin Lamotte
Sound Designer: John Lott
Dialect Coach: Jane Gooderham
Sound Design Assistant: James Smith
Assistant Director: Estelle Shook
Stage Manager: Joanna Barrotta
Assistant Stage Managers: AJ Laflamme, Ashley Ireland
Apprentice Stage Manager: Ariel Martin-Smith

Shows and Tickets:
Single tickets and subscription packages for the 2013.2014 season are now available with 4-show packages starting at $98 and 10-show packages starting at $272. Single tickets start at $24, with C-Stage Under 30 tickets available for $15 (taxes and fees included). Discount tickets are available thanks to Sun Life Financial, Discount Ticket Programs Sponsor. Subscriptions and tickets may be purchased by phone at 416.368.3110, in person at Canadian Stage’s Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E.) or Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley St.) or online at

Additional Info

  • Review Theatre Name: Bluma Appel Theatre
  • Review Theatre Address: 27 Front St. E. Toronto, ON
  • Review Theatre Opens Date: Thursday, 23 January 2014
  • Review Theatre Closes Date: Sunday, 09 February 2014
Last modified on Saturday, 08 February 2014 11:43