WORTH A LOOK?: ****
WHERE? Young Vic RUNTIME: 120 minutes (excluding 15-minute interval)
WHEN? 15/2, opens 20/2 and runs to 30/3/19
Angel Cruz played by Ukweli Roach (pictured above) is in prison on Rikers Island, New York, where he encounters a fellow inmate on a similar murder charge.
- Read on for reasons including how this play was shortlisted for a Best New Play Olivier when it was 1st staged in London
The details of Angel’s crime seem far less serious than those of Lucius Jenkins (Oberon K. A. Adjepong, a commanding presence as a serial killer who has found God) and so Jesus offers a chance to mull over redemption and the capability of both good and evil within everyone.
The cast is rounded out by Dervla Kirwan as a lawyer who sees something in Angel and becomes too involved in his defence and prison guard Valdez (a convincing Joplin Sibtain can’t hide his contempt for those he works with).
Director Kate Hewitt presents us with a set best described as a walkway that crosses the main Young Vic stage with the audience on either side. Sheets of glass move along the walkway to recreate the neighbouring cells that the prisoners share as they discuss what they have done and how they feel about how the criminal justice system is treating them. It’s similar to the travelator used at this venue in The Trial.
We wrote about author and Pulitzer Prize-winner Stephen Adly Guirgis’ last play in London, The Motherf***er With the Hat, and Jesus is more focused with the same ear for naturalistic and believable dialogue.
We saw Roach last year in Nightfall at the Bridge Theatre and his is the quieter, more contemplative part here but he never fails to draw us in opposite the more grand-standing antics of the serial killer.
When Jesus was 1st staged in New York it was directed by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and on its transfer to the Donmar in 2003 it was shortlisted for a Best New Play Olivier.
This revival provides plenty of opportunities to ruminate on how we treat those caught up in the legal system as well as how faith can be interwoven within it.
Its punches are never pulled and Roach’s impressive central role will have you on the edge of your seat as you experience at first-hand the emotional journey that he makes.