John Hayes is about to be executed. He is a murderer, who killed his father and his lover for no apparent reason, and with no compunction. A psychopath. The State is about to do away with him and good riddance.
Well, not exactly. John Hayes is, technically, a woman called Elyese. Elyese is of course aware of John’s existence, and thus, she is aware of what s/he has done. She feels agonising grief for the dead lover but cannot connect her grief with her own behaviour. As she talks about her life, weaving between Elyese and `John’, the disconnection is eerie. In a typical moment, she fondles the pink hair ribbon that belonged to her dead lover, cuddles it like a small child, even weeps over it but somehow never actually connects to the fact that she is responsible for the tragedy. There were several memorably desperate moments, notably when the actress twisted and crumpled with inner anguish and when, finally she beat at herself, the killer and the bed she sat on, as if wanting to rip the whole world apart.
As the author says in a programme note, ‘this is a play about love and what people are capable of when faced with it.’ This is true and what is also shown is the other, more horrifying truth, that when love is only itself, a pure emotion divorced from any concern for others or any reality outside feeling itself, the lover is capable of anything, even killing to preserve it. Love in an extreme and damaged form, the author is saying, is love, nonetheless.
I was gripped by this insight into the twisted logic of John/Elyese’s mind, although I did wonder what was the point of the piece beyond the creation of this tortured individual, wandering in some kind of mental wilderness, far beyond our ability to identify.
The performance by Lucy Roslyn (who also wrote the script) is extraordinary. Thin, elegant, beautiful in an androgynous way, with a huge toothy grin and mirthless laughter punctuating her story, she is the embodiment of something that is purely evil and at the same time completely human. Ms Roslyn also plays all the other roles: her victim, the prison guard who is also her lover, and of course, both characters of John/Elyese. She does this with no apparent change – just a shift of body weight, a gesture, a breath, and she has become the other character. This is a gripping and disturbing hour of theatre.
Review by Kate Beswick
LONDON FRINGE PRODUCTION OF THE YEAR 2014 winners Epsilon Productions present the AWARD WINNING – The STATE vs. JOHN HAYES.
Winner of an Argus Angel and Gemini Print Awards Brighton Fringe 2015
Written by Lucy Roslyn. Directed by Jemma Gross.
“I would do anything for someone I loved”
Huntsville prison, Texas, 1959; Elyese Dukie is on Death Row for murdering her husband and her lover. 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? What does she deserve? Lucy Roslyn’s striking one-act, psychological thriller has its London debut touring the UK. This multi award winning play, based on extensive research into real-life female killers is laced with dark humour so get your front row seats for this death row drama.
The State vs John Hayes
28th October to 22nd November 2015
Running Time: 60 minutes
The King’s Head Theatre
115 Upper Street,
Islington, London N1,1QN