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Jesus Hopped The ‘A’ Train: Young Vic Theatre

March 27, 2019

(Seen at the afternoon performance on 16th March 2019).

Two men in jail. “Superstar” Lucius Jenkins (Oberon K.A. Adjepong) and young Angel Cruz (Ukweli Roach). Lawyer Mary Jane Hanrahan (Dervla Kirwan) attempts to help Cruz. Guard Charlie D’Amico (Matthew Douglas) has some sympathy for Jenkins. Guard Valdez (Joplin Sibtain) just wants the prisoners to know their places.

On a traverse stage with ingenious prison doors, two hours of regularly authentic dialogue reveal more about each character through monologue and interaction.

Stephen Adly Guirgis’s play varies from very good to – later in the second act – uncompromising, with the odd stunning moment. To try to shock all the time would be fruitless, and one mental image created is more than enough. Keeping authenticity is more important, balanced with engaging story-telling and background that a play requires. Here, Guirgis succeeds almost entirely, very few moments slipping more towards “theatre literate” than cellblock.

Director Kate Hewitt does a sound job of keeping the play’s pace steady, never rushing or slowing for emphasis, so that each revelation feels natural. Her blocking of the actors to play to all sides of the auditorium is a lesson in how it should be done, certainly a technique for some others to follow in future.

Key team Imogen Knight (movement) recognises ‘jail house shuffle’ and provides a sense of confinement, with Magda Willi’s set design helping with angles and Guy Hoare lighting with near unrelenting grimness and just one wall of hope. Kinnetia Isidore knows that orange is the new black, and neatly mutes Kirwan’s outfit to blend with just a dash of colour. Peter Rice provides dischord, with the odd telling diversion as sound designer, and not a word is lost in the space.

Adjepong keeps his central character focussed, building into one persona a complex man and delivering a reality with understated emphasis. Roach tells us plenty about the young man in his opening scene and manages to raise more questions than are answered as his story unfolds.

Both he and Kirwan are definers of truth – whose, is the key. Kirwan’s story is the most baldy sketched, and her performance is utterly convincing. Those who know her work will be impressed at another revelation of her extensive range.

Sibtain gets some excellent stage space, making us wonder if he is brutal or simply brutalised by the system he is enforcing. The contrast with Douglas’s affable “All American” is a strength of the production both in the performances and writing.

The whole effect is to raise exactly whom we are imprisoning and exactly how they got to that stage in their lives. That this play is now more than a decade old, with the same questions being asked is concerning. That the Young Vic have given it such a strong staging is important, and we can only hope the right audience may see and learn from what it asks.

 

4 stars.

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