The Incident Room presented by New Diorama
What Is It?
The Incident Room follows the desperate 5-year search for the notorious Yorkshire Ripper. With a particular focus on the impact of the case on women at the time as well as in future generations, this true-crime play is more Happy Valley than Line of Duty.
What Is It About?
The play focusses on the contradictions of gender equality that the Peter Sutcliffe murders brought to light. We follow Sergeant Megan Winterburn as one of many women integrated into the police force, but whose daily struggles with workplace sexism escalate as the Ripper continues to evade capture and women are advised to observe a curfew for their own protection. Whilst we watch the police’s nail-biting, chaotic and sometimes ridiculous attempts to catch one of the UK’s most infamous serial killers, we see Winterburn, decades later, reflecting on the case, and the narrative of the search becomes increasingly inflected by her memory of it.
How Did It Make Me Feel?
There’s a terrifying and sobering idea, hinted at by this play, that the culture of fear that generations of women have been taught is, at least in part, as a result of the string of brutal assaults that Sutcliffe carried out in Yorkshire and Manchester in the 1970s. The Ripper legitimised the idea of a bogeyman, a sinister figure who lies in wait on street corners ready to snatch up vulnerable women and girls. And, indeed, the production does well to focus on the impact this case had on women at the time, giving a central role to one of the few women, Maureen Long, who was attacked by Sutcliffe but survived. As she says in the play, ‘He didn’t kill me. But from that moment I just stopped’. It takes a while, though, for this aspect of the production to really take force, meaning that the early, more procedural scenes feel plodding compared to the wood-chip flying speed of the TV crime dramas that we’re used to. The stage-business of this supposedly frantic incident room is also unconvincing, with the actors non-committedly shifting paper around and flicking pens. Nevertheless, there are some thrilling sequences and we become engrossed in goose chase after goose chase as the police trace each new lead. There are also some brilliantly theatrical moments, like Winterburn pulling a soggy, bedraggled dress from a filing box as the latest victim is discovered.
The humour falls a little flat but the tension is sharp and this production leaves you, ultimately, with a moving testament to the police officers and women who had their lives overturned by senseless violence.
Grace AK x
The Incident Room is playing at New Diorama Theatre, until the 14th March 2020.
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