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The State vs John Hayes review at the King’s Head – ‘gripping and disturbing’

Lucy Roslyn in The State vs John Hayes. Photo: Jemma Gross Lucy Roslyn in The State vs John Hayes. Photo: Jemma Gross

As the lights flash on and out of nowhere Lucy Roslyn is lying on the sparse bed in a prison cell, smiling at the assembled guests, there is a sense that this is going to be a slick and entertaining show.

The entire 60 minutes hinges on Roslyn’s performance, which turns out to be something very special indeed. Roslyn is death row inmate Elyese Dukie, a murderer who was once married and has subsequently had a string of relationships with women. She has conjured up a character for herself, a kind of James Dean figure called John Hayes, who she uses to distance herself from some of the more dramatic and violent episodes in her life.

Roslyn’s performance is astonishing. Elyese is strikingly androgynous, with a low, slow Southern American accent and her transformation into the Hayes alter ego is convincing. Roslyn’s stance and posture become disarmingly masculine, and when she reflects on how Hayes charms the ladies, recreating the scene, her portrayal of a floppy-haired, charismatic pretty boy flashing his Matt Damon-style smile is disturbingly realistic.

All eyes are on Roslyn throughout – she is telling her tale directly to the audience, sometimes engaging with individuals. This technique is very effective, and Roslyn acknowledges the audience reactions with ease, especially the collective grimace when she cracks her knuckles followed by her neck on cue.

It comes as no surprise that Roslyn wrote the piece when it showcases her talent so completely. She has created a very special, intriguing and disturbing piece of theatre – it may only be an hour in length but its impact lasts much longer.

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A gripping and disturbing hour in the company of a charismatic killer on death row