Brief Encounter with ... London Road's Alecky BlytheDate: 2 August 2012
Blythe has become known for her documentary theatre productions, including The Girlfriend Experience (2008) and Come Out Eli (2003), in which actors speak the words of interview subjects. London Road is the first time she has used this technique in collaboration with a composer.
For people not familiar with London Road, could you provide a quick overview?
How did it come into being?
“I went there before Steve Wright was arrested but after the five bodies had all been found. Obviously the whole town was in a state of panic and fear; I got my first lot of material and stayed for a couple of days and thought 'this isn't really for The Girlfriend Experience but I think I'm getting some quite good material'. I collected as much as I could and then he was arrested, and the story sort of petered out for a bit. The recordings sat on my shelf for about six months and I thought at the time I didn't have enough to make a full play.
Then I got invited to do a workshop at the National Theatre Studio, so I took the material along, never thinking that I'd make something about Ipswich but just as something for us to experiment with. And it turned out that it responded very well to music; by the end of the week we'd written a few songs and the National were like 'yeah we think you're onto something here'. Then it was announced that the trial was going to be back in Ipswich. So that for me was very important, because at that stage I wasn't certain what the next phase of the story would be. So I went back, and things began to come together.
How did you go about getting the interviews? Did you feel like a journalist doorstepping?
I wasn't trying to go down and get any dirt on the girls or Steve Wright which I think the press were looking for. I was asking them what was it like for them living there - maybe that's a question they hadn't been asked and were happy to talk about because their experiences were unsettling. Ok, they hadn't lost a daughter but they were going through difficult times and they wanted to share that.
Do you worry about being exploitative?
What sort of reactions did you get to the show from those who were involved?
Would you take it to Ipswich?
The cast of London Road
I wouldn't take it to Ipswich. I think it would be too raw and I think that would be wrong. If people want to come from Ipswich and see it that's great. But I think it would be wrong to take it there because I'm sure some of the pain is still very present for some people.
Last time London Road was in the Cottesloe and now it's in the Olivier. Quite an upgrade.
How did you first get started with verbatim theatre?
I was a long time member of the Actors' Centre where I would regularly go to try and remind myself that I was an actor and do classes. And I learnt this particular technique of recording conversations and wearing earphones in a workshop run by Mark Wing-Davey, who at the time was running the Actors' Centre. He taught this class there called 'Drama Without Paper', and it was something he had discovered while working with American actress and academic Anna Deavere-Smith. Lots of us got the bug, and I got it really bad, and I was like 'I want to make my own show because I think this is better than what i'm auditioning for and not even getting the parts for'. And with his blessing I decided to make my own play, that I would then perform in and invite agents to and hopefully I'd get a part in The Bill and that was it. That was the plan.
He taught the technique as choose a subject, choose a good talking point, go and interview people about that subject and edit the interviews. The play wouldn't necessarily have a narrative, it was more a collage of different little anecdotes and you'd go and talk to lots of quirky characters and play them all. So I chose the subject of fear because I thought that would be a good talking point. I'd just moved to Hackney and there was a siege going on up that road and I thought that's quite handy, I can go up and talk to people about it. The siege then became the story and I made this play called Come Out Eli - I'd kind of unwittingly walked into a narrative. There are lots of echoes of London Road in it actually.
Anyway, I showcased it at the Actors' Centre and Mehmet Ergen came to see it and invited me to stage it at the Arcola. That went really well and we won a Time Out Award which led to a run at the BAC. Out of that I got a literary agent and thought 'oh, so I'm a writer am I?' I think a lot of making stuff is about being open to things and seeing where it can lead you; I'm still trying to get my part on The Bill!
So besides The Bill, what's next?
London Road continues in the NT Olivier until 6 September 2012