With the popularity of Orange Is The New Black, there’s certainly an appetite for stories set in female prisons. But Piper, Alex and co. wouldn’t stand a chance against John Hayes.
That’s right. John Hayes. Male. In this one woman play from Epsilon Productions, Lucy Roslyn plays Elyese Dukie, a female prisoner on Death Row suffering from multiple personality disorder. Or maybe it’s actually John Hayes in the body of a woman? Or any other of the personalities in the story of her life? We’re never really sure if she’s addressing us, or the audience inside her head. With her masculine gait and androgynous looks, Roslyn has cleverly created a character that represents every inmate, every gender and every sexual persuasion based on research into real female killers, lending the play a deliciously chilling authenticity. It’s also what makes her such a frightening yet strangely alluring figure.
Through extended monologue she explains her past, her present and her future. It’s a disjointed and fragmented tale that is often difficult to follow, though that only feeds into the notion of the character’s psychiatric imbalance, mirrored by subtle changes in lighting. Ultimately it’s a story about love and the lengths some people will go to, even changing their personality. But was that really a conscious decision? What really drives someone into psychopathic territory?
The story itself is less important than the incredible performance of Roslyn. As she notes herself in the programme, can you be ruthless and compassionate at the same time? It’s a question that’s at the heart of her performance, a performance that utterly embodies this character. She’s charismatic, charming, endearing, dangerous, unpredictable and delves into dark comic territory with a wicked smile. Most of all she is more human than monster. Somehow her delivery makes us sympathise with a psychopath as we sit transfixed and daren’t move out of fear, fascination, or worse – attracting her own steely gaze and the powerful force for good and/or evil in those dark brown eyes.
The State vs John Hayes is a truly captivating and provocative hour long show that’s far too short – we could easily spend more time in the company of Elyese Dukie. Perhaps, though, that’s the point. On Death Row life is cruelly all too short for those who society deems worthless. It’s left to us to decide if we agree.
Watch: The State vs John Hayes runs at the Kings Head Theatre until 22nd November as part of the #Festival45 of new writing.
Photos: Jemma Gross