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The State vs. John Hayes is a fantastic one woman show currently on at the King’s Head Theatre as part of their inaugural new writing season for #Festival45.

Directed by Jemma Gross, the play focuses on Death Row inmate Elyese Dukie who, on the night before her final court trial, details how her life lead up to this point. The following day she’ll either be committed to death, or committed to an asylum as a madwoman.

It’s a very intimate and direct approach, with Elyese interacting and directing questions to the audience so that you almost feel like a figment of her imagination; this is her last confession and we’re there to bear witness.

But Elyese isn’t alone in her cell, troubled by the demons of her past that continue to haunt her both mentally and physically, and the ever-looming presence of John Hayes, the alter ego ‘responsible’ for the murders.the-state-vs-john-hayes-02Lucy Roslyn, who both wrote and stared in the production, carried the piece effortlessly with (as I heard many people agreeing on afterwards) a striking smile and a charm to her character, as well as the many other characters she slipped in and out of.

There was a fantastic dark humour to the play, with Roslyn’s delivery making the piece feel almost casual and lighthearted. But the darkness within is clear. Elyese has had a troubled life and the effects of this have seeped into her being. Every now and then the facade slips and Elyese cracks, allowing the audience to see behind the seductive and manipulative nature. But is she really a psychopath?

This is where the show limits itself in that we don’t get to see all of Elyese. Like any last conversation, there’s already a wealth of context we don’t know and, as an audience, we have to infer the bits we aren’t given, so if we’re to pass judgment, we’re not really able to. In this instance, I don’t think we were supposed to. Elyese is past that point; she just wants to tell her story so that it lives on.

Simple. Effective. Engrossing. This is one inmate you won’t want to miss.

★★★★

The State vs. John Hayes is on until 22 November.

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