They say “Love your mother, she’s your toughest critic and biggest fan“…I believe in these very words. Since blogging about theatre, my mum is my stalker. As soon as I hit the “Publish” button, she reads the post several times, questions my word choices, checks spelling and grammar, and gives her final verdict, “Good blog post, Emma! You clearly get your brains from your mother!” Recently, my mum asked whether she could tag along to see a production. I could never deny my dear old mum. Inviting her along to see Epsilon Productions‘ The State vs John Hayes, we rushed into the packed King’s Head from Angel (thanks to my brilliant time keeping skills). Talk about being glamorously late on time!
Huntsville prison, Texas, 1959. Elyese Dukie is on Death Row for the murder of two people. Tomorrow she goes to court for the last time. But tonight Elyese reveals the one thing she won’t tell the court or the string of psychiatrists sent to diagnose her: that she is not alone in her cell… John Hayes is in there with her. Psychopath, or seductress? Murderer, or manipulator? Psychiatric hospital, or the electric chair?Epsilon Productions, The State vs John Hayes, 2015
Focusing on a metal camp bed, the bare set imprisoned expectations and clues for the production. The black walls jailed any light and the audience were detained into their very own death rows. With no thrills or spills (quite hard whilst sitting in a pub), I loved the simplicity. Like a blank canvas, I knew The State vs John Hayes‘ cast and crew had the punishing task to provide the colours of theatrical service. Flicking through my programme, it was clear that the production was made from “extensive research”, but the interesting focus into “real-life female killers” braced me for a hardcore performance. Mentally note-taking my surroundings, my mum nudged me with “There’s Tony Robinson“. Before I could roll my eyes at my mum’s celeb spotting in the audience and lie “Who?”, our vision was robbed.
Sat on the bed, we meet the actress, Lucy Roslyn, who had the daunting task of retaining the audience’s attention spans for sixty minutes. From the first pyscho head twist, I had fallen in love with her character, Elyese Dukie, including her glorious Southern American accent. Then came Sherry Coenen’s coloured lighting spurts to trigger a surprising Hulk/Jekyll and Hyde-like twist as Elyese regurgitated her sudden masculine alter-ego, John Hayes. Roslyn adopted a “do it like a dude” mannerisms to create an alarmingly lovable rogue to make you weak at the knees. I soon became confused – he or she? Gender suddenly became blurred and the female/male boxes were left unticked. It was a glorious moment of trickery as I was forced to disregard gender and focus on the narrative and emotions.
Rosyln’s eye contact constantly victimised each member of the audience in turn. Being on the receiving end of her deadly stare, the tension sliced my eyeballs and inserted her succulent words right into my hanging mouth, left me high and dry for the next stare down. Her monologue splattered jokes and fired questions left, right and centre to create a silent massacre. Plucking her prey from the audience, this rotation of direct eye contact respected you as an audience member, but also represented Elyese’s abused mind. Never truly focusing, she flirted and expressed the madness of her confined prison cell. She toyed with dark comedy, allowed the audience to laugh and tightened the noose around this psychological thriller.
Being Roslyn’s first piece of writing for theatre, The State vs John Hayes is an amazing achievement. Throughout the sixty minutes, my mind was emotionally wrecked as was the metal camp bed. I no longer knew how I felt towards Elyese – after all a woman can be killed with kindness. I applaud Roslyn for embodying so many characters to explain Elyese’s life story and voicing a gender neutral space previously unknown to me. Exploring themes of crime, gender and the complexities of the human heart, The State vs John Hayes carved Elyese was here. The hanging light bulb zapped her last light of life.
I truly believe Lucy Roslyn, Epsilon Productions and the Kings’ Head Theatre are certainly the ones to watch. Seeking challenging dramas, their strong creative voices empowers new theatre makers to be bold with their writing and champions productions which battle with extreme emotion within a fabulous buzzing venue. I love productions which dissect us humans, question our thought processes and plays upon our habits whilst retaining a creative vision. Personally, theatre has no longer become a route of escapism, but a paradise to seek identity and hear other voices. The State vs John Hayes welcomed me home – into brand new territory, which models itself on my way of thinking. They say “Great minds think alike!” My mum agreed.
Buy your tickets to see The State vs John Hayes at the King’s Head Theatre here. Ends 22 November.
P.S I absolutely loved these words from Epsilon Productions in The State Vs Hayes programme…so good I have to share…