Guest reviewer: Daniel Shipman
As Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ plays during the interval, you can’t help but notice how well timed this production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train by Elysium Theatre really is. Detailing the interactions of two prisoners – one on trial for murder, one already convicted – the play takes a long hard look at race, religion and violence in America, and it doesn’t like what it finds. Tragically, it was written 18 years ago but so little has changed it could have premiered yesterday.
The US flag looms large over the rear of the stage in Louis Price’s design, a constant reminder of how the country in which it is set has a huge influence on the events of the play. You would struggle to imagine it being transplanted to Britain, or anywhere else for that matter.
The acting here is excellent. The play runs for two hours with no frills to distract the audience, and all parts demand a lot from their respective performers, but every member of the cast delivers the goods. Alastair Gillies makes a skin-crawling Valdez and Danny Solomon presents Angel Cruz as one of the most well realised, three-dimensional characters I have ever seen on a stage.
Unfortunately, they are limited in what they can achieve by the writing. For what it achieves in character building, it lacks in dialogue. Several scenes spend far too long chasing their own tail, taking us around in circles and really testing the patience of the audience. The humour lands well but is too few and far between to really engage the audience and see them through the tougher moments in the play.
On the strength of the performances, I cannot help but recommend Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, but be sure to take your patience with you!