With the much publicised and ongoing arguments concerning the American death penalty and justice system, it would be easy to write a play concerning the issue which stank of lofty liberalism and slovenly social commentary. However, the script and performance by one woman powerhouse Lucy Roslyn cleverly turns away from such predictability and steers The State Vs John Hayes towards a character study which is enthralling and insightful.
Meet Elyese Dukie, a woman who is struggling - internally, externally, there are clearly problems - and in a Texas prison about to walk the mile (and not Edinburgh's joyous Royal one) for double murder. However, the death row setting serves only as a backdrop and as some visual shorthand for Elyese's introverted tussle. The audience are drawn into her claustrophobic, paranoid, painful world and, due to Roslyn's well considered and mature performance, through the hour we begin to care about her. We care about a murderer and, despite her candid accounts of the terrible things she has done, we want the best for her. Within this duplicity is where the real strengths of this play lie, Roslyn doesn't just show us the two sides of this ambiguous and difficult woman - she makes us feel for both of them.
There is the occasional slip in direction from this show and sometimes one feels too many issues have been crammed into a single person simply to amplify the emotional pay-off (a schizophrenic, transgender, lesbian, murderous, single Mum anyone?). Despite this, Roslyn achieves, amazingly, in keeping all these slightly dramatic personality traits in the realm of the believable and painting a portrait which is at once beautiful, beguiling, terrifying and terrific.