Review: The Incident Room (rating 5/5)
Few crimes compare for notoriety to those of the man who came to be known as the Yorkshire Ripper, whose reign of terror spread fear across the north of England in the 1970s.
Many who lived through those times will still bear a chilling recollection of the horror of his deeds and how they may have changed their own behaviour: women everywhere who carried knives for protection, men who felt the finger of suspicion pointing at them if they were in the vicinity of the Ripper’s known haunts.
A packed house sat gripped for an hour watching a recreation of the police handling of the case, famously botched by inefficient processes and a leader who encouraged his team to focus on what turned out to be a hoax tape, or at least a diversion from finding the true killer of 13 women.
This interpretation of those difficult times recalls a pre-digital world of chaotic paper filing systems, hearsay and hunches. It was also a time when sex discrimination at work was coming under scrutiny and exposed in the behaviour of senior officer George Oldfield’s put-downs and his disregard for women in his team.
The writers have painstakingly researched the case, meeting police and journalists who worked on it, as well as people who knew the victims. The result is an authentic re-telling of how the police team struggled to make any progress, obstructed by hubris and pulling rank. A refusal to consider policeman Andrew Laptew’s account of how he had met and suspected Peter Sutcliffe meant two more women were added to the list of victims.
The action takes place in one unchanging set, a room with only desks and phones and a juggernaut-sized bank of filing cabinets representing the mountain of paperwork. It is frenetic, loud and angry, a reflection of the tension and cloud of hopelessness that seemed to hang over the police team throughout their five-year investigation.
Katy Brittain gives a stand-out double performance as policewoman Sylvia Swanson and as Maureen Long who survived what was believed to be an attack by Sutcliffe. Her hand-wringing emotion is palpable and convincing, just as her comic one-liners prompt some much-needed laughter in an otherwise grim and grinding task.
Peter Clements, also doubles up to good effect as the cocky Manchester detective Jack Ridgeway and the suspect taxi driver Jack Hobson.
One slight niggle was Colin Campbell’s tentative playing of George Oldfield. Too much staring at feet and standing around not knowing what to do with his arms. It wasn’t until Oldfield became more desperate in his search that Campbell got to grips with the man’s unwillingness to believe he could be wrong, and how he used the power of his job to obstruct others trying to do theirs.
That aside, this is a polished performance by a hard-working team who were deservedly rewarded with a standing ovation.
Pleasance Courtyard, most dates until 26 August