The murder of five women who worked as prostitutes in Ipswich is not a story that can be set very easily to music. I was, therefore, all the more impressed by Alecky Blythe’s ‘London Road’ which is playing at the National Theatre. The play somehow merges a harsh reality with the absurd to produce a gripping tale focussing on the impacts of the murders and their aftermath in an area of Ipswich that became know as its ‘Red Light District’.
Blythe’s verbatim use of the words that were spoken to her by London Road residents paints a picture of a community coming together in the face of adversity and joining arms to lift themselves from the hardship of having both the murders and the murderer in their midst. The missing ingredient, and for obvious reasons, is any understanding of what life was like for the women who found themselves selling sex on London Road before they were murdered. Possibly it was this missing ingredient that led to Kerry Nicol, whose 19-year-old daughter, Tania, was one the five women killed by Steve Wright saying she was not happy about the production:
“They just want to go ahead with the play and make money out of other people’s misery,” she said.
The women who were killed were all under thirty years old which is not hugely surprising considering that the average age women become involved in prostitution is twelve. All of the women, according to newspaper reports at the time, were addicted to drugs which, with 87% of prostitutes addicted to heroin, is not surprising either. Even their murders were part of a wider trend. According to a Home Office report up to 60 women working as prostitutes were murdered in a recent ten year period.
‘London Road’ does not put much focus on the lives that prostitutes in Ipswich lived after the murders but it does capture the fear felt by women who continued to work in the local sex industry. According to AVA 92% of prostitutes say they want to escape the trade immediately.
If we are ever to improve the lot of the eighty thousand people involved in prostitution in theUKwe need to address the issue from the point of view of the women involved. With such high drug addiction rates, an almost universal desire to leave the sex industry and such danger involved in the work we must seriously consider removing the smokescreen of illegality that can easily prevent sex workers receiving the help they often desperately need.
Many of the statistics in the piece are from this excellent website: http://www.avaproject.org.uk/our-resources/statistics/prostitution.aspx
London Roadis on at the National Theatre: https://ticketing.nationaltheatre.org.uk/production.aspx?performanceNumber=30255
I bought tickets for £5 through the Entry Pass Scheme: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/entrypass