REVIEW: The State vs John Hayes (King’s Head Theatre)

The State vs John HayesOne often reads that Death Row inmates receive love letters, even marriage proposals. What attracts people to murderers? Could it be that they have violated the ultimate taboo by taking a human life, thereby placing themselves outside of society? Or are they cunning manipulators who succeed in making people believe they do not deserve to be punished at all?

Lucy Roslyn’s multi-award winning psychological thriller takes us to Huntsville prison, Texas, 1959 where Elyese Dukie is waiting on Death Row for murdering her husband and her lover. She has exhausted all her appeals and tomorrow will be her last day in court before she faces the chair. She does not believe that the court will grant her the more humane option of lethal injection. Yet tonight we are Elyese’s audience and she reveals the one thing she won’t tell the court or the psychiatrists who have examined her: She is not alone in her cell, John Hayes is in there with her.

Skilfully directed by Jemma Gross, this one-act drama is a compelling analysis of a charming manipulator, a psychopath. Lucy Roslyn’s Elyese is self-assured with a winning smile and appears completely honest and straightforward when she talks of her life in prison including her relationship with officer Abigail Leonard who seems to be attracted to the charismatic Elyese. Yet there is something not quite right about her. Elyese suffers from muscle spasms and feels a strange pain as if somebody is stabbing her in the back. Her story often entails contradictions, she lacks empathy, and she does not feel any regret about her murders. However, when it becomes apparent that she seems to suffer from multiple-personality disorder, one wonders if she was really responsible for the killings and should not be in a mental institution instead.

Based on extensive research into female killers, this study of a murderer is frightening and witty in equal measure. Lucy Roslyn gives an outstanding performance as the charismatic Elyese in this one-act drama. One not to miss.

Reviewed by: Carolin Kopplin

The State vs John Hayes is playing at the King’s Head Theatre until 22 November. Click here for tickets