Looking into the heart of a famous and controversial investigation, we join police hunting the Yorkshire Ripper as they set up a centralised incident room in Millgarth, Leeds. It is to be a long case, dogged by an excess of information and too broad a search area – especially for this pre-computer age. With the eyes of the nation upon them the police are under pressure to catch a killer, but as they work round the clock, the media is questioning their competence.
This true-crime play is almost entirely set in the close confines of the incident room, walled in by filing cabinet upon filling cabinet. As the sea of information flows in and tempers fray, the police become desperate for leads, desperate to stop the killings.
The focus here is very much on the human story, and the ever-increasing number of victims is movingly marked through shoes and clothes discretely slipped into view as the team works away. You can feel their heartbreak every time a new item appears – their hopes of catching the killer before he claims his next victim dashed once more. Handled with equal sensitivity are the news clips projected onto the filing cabinets. They emphasise the search, the man-hours put into scouring crime scenes; there are no ghoulish pictures of dead bodies, but everything is about those fighting to stop it happening again.
The piece is very well-acted, particularly during the peak of information processing, when the cast flow with precision around the desks shifting the mounds of paperwork. Unfortunately however, the stage-whispers were often too quiet to understand. Although the subject matter is dark the piece does have lighter moments; these are pitched well, a necessary point of balance within the grim scenario and high-pressure atmosphere, but not flippant. Katie Brittain in her roles as Sylvia and Maureen particularly shines in these lighter moments, and highlights the humanity of all involved.
This sensitive and interesting look at the years-long investigation is cleverly staged and convincingly acted, demonstrating how it defined everyone involved. It fulfils our need to know not only about the worst humans are capable of, but also the great lengths gone to to catch them.