THEATRE – The Incident Room – A retelling of the crimes of the Yorskshire Ripper


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The Incident Room is as close as you could get to seeing an episode of Line of Duty live on stage. But unlike most police procedurals the focus is squarely on those most affected by the Yorkshire Ripper’s crimes: the victims.

The Incident Room fringe poster
Image credit: Guy Sanders


The plot follows Megan Winterburn, ably portrayed by Charlotte Melia, one of the few female members in the police task force set up to find the Yorkshire Ripper.

Serial killers aside, she also has to contend with institutional sexism, belligerent bosses and dozens of copycats all eager to get in on the media attention given to the killer.

The various mistakes made by the investigation have been well-documented although those with no prior knowledge of the case will find it easy enough to follow the plot. Some inventive and effective multimedia helps to create a sense of the investigations cultural and social context.

Meanwhile, Patrick Connellan’s impressive sets as well as the costume design effectively evoke a wider world outside the busy incident room in 1970s Leeds.

The script cleverly weaves the various nuances of the investigation, which dragged on over six long years, together.

The role that sexism played in the police’s handling of the case is highlighted without making ogres of the men involved. But the victims, represented in the character of Maureen, are the real stars of the show.

The play thoroughly humanises the women who the media of the time branded as “prostitutes”, and mourns the facts that their lives came to be defined by their association with the Yorkshire Ripper.

Despite the excellently crafted script, playwrights Olivia Hirst and David Byrne have been unable to keep from entirely sensationalising the Yorkshire Ripper, which somewhat undercuts the play’s overarching theme.

Nevertheless, Peter Sutcliffe is mentioned but he is never seen and no details about his life or his motives are included. He is reduced to a footnote in the story of Yorkshire’s women.

So often dramatists justify the decision to focus the narrative on the perpetrators of violent crime, particularly if the violence is directed at women, by saying that that is what audiences find interesting.

The Incident Roomshows that it is possible to craft a thrilling story about violent crime which places the focus squarely on the victims rather than the killer.