Paul T Davies reviews The Incident Room now playing at the Pleasance Courtyard as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.
Set in 1975 in the Millgarth incident room, the centre point for the hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, this superbly researched play captures the tensions, and failures, of the team to find the serial killer. There are so many things that strike us now as we watch the drama unfold, not just the incompetence of the investigation, (Peter Sutcliffe, the Ripper, was interviewed and his name cropped up several times), but the intense sexism of the time. The first four women killed were sex workers, and the room was not set up or the murders taken seriously until Jane MacDonald, a schoolgirl, was victim number five. New Diorama’s production, with a script by Olivia Hirst and David Byrne, places women at the centre of this male dominated world, with Sergeant Megan Winterburn the focus.
Charlotte Melia is excellent as Winterburn, furious that her male colleagues are promoted ahead of her, tough and committed, making a connection with surviving victim Maureen Long, a superbly comic and poignant characterisation by Katy Brittain, and both women showing equal vulnerability and toughness to survive. It’s a fine ensemble and I was particularly impressed by Jamie Samuel as Andrew Laptew, who gets promoted only to find that he was the one who let the Ripper slip through his fingers, his horror was very well portrayed.
The pace is tight, performed on an excellent set of filing cabinets by Patrick Connellan that literally collapses under the weight of paperwork. This is an excellent example of devising, and shaping, of material, and the play never lets the audience forget the women who were murdered. Every time a body is found, Winterburn finds a sodden piece of clothing, or a shoe, in the filing cabinets, file boxes, and in one memorable moment, she pulls a dress out of a coffee cup. It’s a fine example of docu-drama, highly recommended.