Robert Thody, Education Officer | April 13, 2018
“Cheek to Cheek” was how my parents met, Ballroom Dancing in London just after World War II. Consequently, I was enrolled into a local dance class when I was spotty and still wearing shorts. It was so embarrassing to ‘lead’ girls who were far better dancers, but since I was the only male, they were willing to have me crush delicate toes to songs from musicals, such as ‘Top Hat’. Any film on T.V. with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers became the family highlight for viewing on our sole black and white T.V. Thus, my fascination with Dr. Who and the Daleks was dampened since I loved the exterminating, but always imagined them suddenly erupting into song and dance.
This weekend I watched the DVD ‘London Road’, a film adaptation of the musical play, commissioned by the Royal National Theatre and based on true events that occurred in 2006 on a street in Ipswich, England. Original interviews taken of neighbours, police, journalists, prostitutes, and students were recorded in 2006 by the writer Alecky Blyth. For the 2011 musical play, these recordings were transformed by the creative team into the lyrics and choreography charting the emotional journey of a community in crisis. The talented cast mimicked the recorded voices, conveying the shock, bewilderment, guilt, and rage expressed by neighbours during the arrest, trial, and subsequent life imprisonment of a serial murderer who lived at 79 London Road.
Olivia Colman carries the movie through its pivotal stages, her voice mimicking a traumatized, tongue tied neighbour. For this task, she had to immerse herself in the original recordings, isolating its pitch, peculiarities, and pauses to accurately reproduce subtle intonations. The film has her physically performing in a range of settings and locations to bring the neighbourhood characters and the community narrative to life. The strength of the original musical play and this movie is the adherence to the exact pitch, tone, and words that each voice vented in the original interviews. Their raw rambling and awkwardness betray their failure to comprehend a horror happening so close to home.
While the original play would have delivered the intimacy of live theatre, this film still achieves a taste of why the play won an award for best musical in 2011. Under the direction of Rufas Norris, and writing of Alecky Blythe, the sound bites become lyrics, cultivated into songs and choreographed in a way that remains awkward, disjointed, and faltering. This is not a ‘Cheek to Cheek’ musical, with flashy dances, climaxing into a richly coloured spectacle. However, like Ballroom Dancing in London just after World War II, it offers an emotional release to ordinary folk caught in a war zone, capturing the subtleties and complexity of the local residents and sex workers, each struggling to move beyond the ruins and carnage of their broken community.