If we do evil, do we deserve redemption?

If we do evil, do we deserve redemption?

Robert Tanitch reviews Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train at The Young Vic, London SE1

American prison dramas have always been popular, especially in the Hollywood movies, and ever since the 1930s.

Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play, last seen at the Donmar Warehouse in 2002, is set in a high security prison in New York; but it is not your usual prison drama.

It is in fact a modern morality play, a Christian parable, a religious thriller, raising questions about God, life, guilt, repentance and redemption.

Ukweli Roach in Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train - Credit Johan Persson

Ukweli Roach in Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train

A philosophical debate is made dramatically exciting by the terrific performances in Kate Hewitt’s emotionally involving production.

Magda Willi’s simple set is a long uncluttered traverse stage which cleverly suggests two prison cells without having two cages.

Angel, a young man (Ukweli Roach), has shot a cult leader, a phoney born-again preacher, in the backside. The man died of a heart-attack in hospital.

Lucius (Oberon K. A. Adjepong) is a middle-aged, black man, who has killed eight people, including a child. He faces extradition to Florida and execution.

Lucius has found God since he has been in prison and wants Angel to confront his sin and accept his responsibility. But Angel stands a good chance of getting a reprieve, if he is willing to lie in court.

Will Lucius, who believes that God has forgiven him, be able to convert Angel, an atheist, to Christianity? But is Lucius’s repentance genuine or is he, as Angel suspects, a schizophrenic psychopathic drug-addict trying to hide behind religion?

The cast includes a confident white lawyer (Dervla Kirwan), who puts her career on line, convinced that she can get Angel acquitted if she rehearses his lies with him.

There are also two guards (Matthew Douglas and Joplin Sibtain) representing respectively the decent and the sadistic side of the penal system.Robert Tanitch Mature Times theatre reviewer

Stephen Adly Guirgis’s dialogue is confrontational, evangelical and foul-mouthed (amusingly so in the opening minutes), and Adjepong and Roach, high-powered, hyperactive and charismatic, know how to deliver it for maximum effect.

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