EDINBURGH 2019: BWW REVIEW: THE INCIDENT ROOM, Pleasance Courtyard
When it's just prostitutes being murdered, the 1970s police force seemed not to care so much. But when it was 16-year-old Jayne MacDonald... Different story. Suddenly, The Incident Room springs into life, and it's here that Olivia Hirst and David Byrne's script picks up this astonishing crime drama.
There is something specifically period about Beth Flintoff and Byrne's directorial vision. Not in Tom Selleck moustaches or the mutton chops, but in the casual misogyny and old-school Northern banter; the women overlooked for promotion; the proposed curfews all in the name of keeping women safe. It's the unwanted gift of sexism wrapped up in a protective bow. It's only wanting the best for the fairer sex.
Oh, how much has changed...
But while The Incident Room is rife with subtle allusions to this landscape, and while its subject matter is full of analogies to sexual violence, its primary focus is on the true story of the Yorkshire Ripper. Peter Sutcliffe murdered 13 women before being caught in 1981. The West Yorkshire Police investigated the killings for five years, handling a mountain of hoax information (read: fake news) and interviewing Sutcliffe nine times without any arrest.
Oh, how much has changed...
Byrne is renowned for his collaborative style, bringing a multitude of voices and ideas together into a cohesive production. The Incident Room has the quick, zingy dialogue - courtesy of Hirst - that you'd expect from a cop show. It has the patter between cast members that only comes from a true ensemble effort. It has all those undertones of drama and danger that pervade through Yaiza Varona's composition and Greg Cebula's exceptional lighting, which subtly plays with shadow to indicate the passage of time and the constantly impending threat of another murder.
These design features all serve to accentuate the exceptional canvas that is Patrick Connellan's set. Overflowing with tiny details, these filing cabinets literally come apart at the seams - a powerful visual aid as to just how much the investigative team were buried under paperwork at the time.
It would be easy to think of these women as historical statistics, a small part of a bigger story that will remain in the history books as an era-defining crime. But the true beauty of The Incident Room is how it both drowns itself in information and still lifts itself above such intricacy.
Hirst, Flintoff and Byrne accentuate the people and the personalities within the police force and the victims - none more so than Maureen Long (Katy Brittain), one of those who survived Sutcliffe's attack. Brittain personifies the emotional crux of this production in her character, a previously gutsy extrovert now broken and constantly looking over her shoulder.
Suspicion lurks around every corner of The Incident Room. But while a tale of failure (despite the eventual desired outcome), this production is in every sense a triumph.
Image courtesy of Richard Davenport