Review: The State Vs John Hayes, King’s Head Theatre

“They would never send John…but they would send me”

More of us have voices in our head than we would care to admit but how many of us truly give them the time of day. Sitting in her cell on Death Row, Elyese Dukie is one such person, accused of the murder of two people but adamant that John Hayes was responsible, and it is Hayes’ face who looks back at her from the mirror and who we first meet in The State Vs John Hayes, now playing at the King’s Head Theatre as part of their new writing festival.

Developed out of extensive research into female killers, this one-woman show is written and performed by Lucy Roslyn and is hauntingly effective. In this Texas prison cell, this complex character ricochets between extremes, between John and Elyese, as we delve into the interior life she won’t reveal to the courts or the psychiatrists, drawing ever closer to horrible truths borne of lifelong exposure to violence and the desperation to conform to societal norms.

It’s an extraordinary physical performance from Roslyn, cleverly enhanced by Sherry Coenen’s lighting, as the two facets of her self are delineated but also marked as two ends of the same gender-fluid spectrum as opposed to two separate personae. This distinction becomes important later on, as her mental composure begins to crack, inspiring as much fear as compassion with Roslyn’s confrontational direct address leaving us nowhere to turn.

And it offers a stark picture of female prison life as she caricatures the other people in her life, the men that visit her, the prisoners that become her lovers – who all want her to be John for them – layering up the multifaceted mental complexity of our protagonist. And naturally, it leaves that complexity for us to ponder, how much of the truth are we being told here and for someone this psychologically riven, what even is her truth. Intriguing and interesting. 

Running time: 60 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Jemma Gross

Booking until 22nd November

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