Murders: The musical - a question of taste

Is there no subject they can't make a song and dance about? Genevieve Roberts on the strange case of the Suffolk Strangler

"Taste is the enemy of creativeness," claimed Picasso, who designed stage sets when not painting on canvas. The uneasy relationship between taste and the stage regularly provokes controversy. The latest has not even waited for the curtain to rise. This week theatre audiences will be invited to applaud a musical treatment of the brutal death of five prostitutes in Ipswich by the so-called Suffolk Strangler in 2006. London Road, named after the street where the mass murderer Steve Wright lived, opens at the National Theatre.

The Reverend Andrew Dotchin, who knew Tania Nicol, one of the victims, said people in Ipswich were "distressed" that the subject had been given the song-and-dance treatment. "There has been very little consultation between people putting on the event and those whose grief they're portraying," he said. "The writer is said to have done extensive research, but we are not aware of her speaking to the families."

A spokeswoman for the National Theatre confirmed that Alecky Blythe did not speak to the families, but said she "spent a lot of time in Ipswich and obviously spoke to residents".

Mr Dotchin said that while people should be talking and writing about the events, he questioned whether anyone should be putting it on stage so soon. "Everyone who I've spoken to has said, 'What?' and 'How dare they?' People are asking, 'Is somebody making money out of our grief?' I don't think that's the motive at all, but that's how it looks."

He said he hopes audiences will be given the opportunity to contribute to the Somebody's Daughter Memorial fund, set up in Ipswich after the tragedy. He suggested an optional donation added to the ticket price.

The philosopher A C Grayling, who argued against censorship in his book Ideas That Matter, believes the content of the play is entirely a matter of taste. "Everything depends on how it's done," he said. "No subject should be off-limits, as long as it's tasteful, as it helps us to explore our understanding – and it's important for society to explore within ourselves, and learn from events. Theatre, drama and documentaries all promote discussion."

Matt Wolf, theatre editor for the The Arts Desk website believes all subjects are fair game: "Surely, in our post-Sondheim musical/opera landscape, there's no one topic off-limits, as long as it is in the hands of artists – which is to say, I would not be keen to watch a musicalised snuff film. Which, I am sure, this will not be."

Aleks Sierz, author of In-Yer-Face Theatre, said: "Contemporary theatre should be creating new and challenging forms to express the rather troubling facts of our lives, which include the ugly subjects of serial killings and perversion. One of the most memorable shows of the past decade was Jerry Springer: The Opera. That caused controversy, because of its provocative images of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. Controversial art is good; audiences should be challenged; artists should experiment. The alternative is dead art."

A spokeswoman for the National Theatre said the piece, created from edited interviews recorded with people from Ipswich and directed by Rufus Norris, does not seek to "exploit or sensationalise". She said: "It is a serious look at the effect on the community of this tragic event."

Caroline McGinn, theatre editor of Time Out, agrees: "People understand fiction and reality are different," she said. "Make art – but when there are still living victims or relatives around, you'd better make sure it's good art."

Bat Boy: The Musical

The 1992 news about a half-boy, half-bat, found living in a cave and given the imaginative moniker "Bat Boy" was given the song-and-dance treatment. It opened in Los Angeles in 1997, and has since been performed at the Edinburgh Festival and at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London's West End in 2004.

Anne Frank

In the late 1980s, the musical Yours, Anne was performed in the US. Then, in 2008, a €3m (£2.7m) musical based on the schoolgirl's Holocaust diary – Ana Frank Un Canto a la Vida – caused controversy before being performed in Madrid.

A New Brain

William Finn's autobiographical account of his own battle for life when he was afflicted with a seemingly terminal illness. The main character is in a coma with a deadly brain disorder for part of the show. Performed at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2005.

Plague: The Musical

The musical about fictional Clive Hucklefish – who comes to London to seek his fortune, but ends up inadvertently unleashing the bubonic plague – proved a sell-out in Edinburgh in 2008.

Jack the Ripper: The Musical

The East End murders of 1888 were set to music and performed at The Little Theatre in Donnington, Shropshire, in November 2005. Another version played in New Jersey in 2008 and is expected to be staged in London soon.

Thalidomide!! A Musical

Story of the anti-morning sickness drug given to pregnant women in the 1950s that resulted in babies being born disabled. Mat Fraser's 2006 musical comedy at Battersea Arts Centre included songs such as "It's Hard To Hitch Down Life's Highway With No Thumbs".

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam