Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train
Reviewed – 20 February 2019
“the brilliance of this production is that the answers don’t just come from the words; every aspect and element of the show feels relevant and important”
Kate Hewitt’s production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ ‘Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train’ is bold and philosophical, with moving performances and genius staging that elevates this show to exciting heights.
Angel Cruz (played with tender fierceness by Ukweli Roach) has wound up in jail, accused of attempted murder after shooting a cult leader called Reverend Kim. Alongside the threatening watch of prison officer Valdez (Joplin Sibtain), and the guidance of his lawyer Mary Jane Hanrahan (Dervla Kirwan), Angel strikes up a complex relationship with serial killer, and fellow prisoner Lucius Jenkins (Oberon K.A. Adjepong) – a relationship built on debate and argument surrounding the nature of good, evil and, indeed, God.
The opening line of Guirgis’ play sets the tone, as Angel prays, “Our Father, who art in heaven – Howard be thy name.” The moment is witty and heart wrenching in equal measure as Angel desperately tries to remember the correct words. The play continues in this vein. The dialogue is an absolute powerhouse and the real force behind this work; it’s clever, snappy, and fast paced, becoming so beautifully intricate in the sounds and nuances that are created. The actors really let themselves fly as they attack their dialogue and rattle off their monologues, keeping the performance exciting and engaging. In one particularly impressive monologue, Adjepong’s Lucius exercises whilst addressing his religious beliefs; the actor’s energy doesn’t falter once as he performs countless press ups, squats and on the spot sprints all the while delivering his speech. These scenes are separated by blackouts and a score of dramatic drum beats that sound like gunfire – they are thrilling and tense and help support the tone of the piece.
The staging, too, keeps the show feeling fresh, exploiting both movement and stillness to full effect. The auditorium is in the round; the stage is created as a strip cutting through the audience, with glass doors sliding along it. The simple fluidity of this design (Magda Willi) introduces an interesting dichotomy to the show that reflects the inherent sentiment of the play. On the one hand, it creates a sense of openness and, ironically, freedom, whilst on the other hand it creates an inescapable claustrophobia. The transparent glass doors evince our all-seeing nature whilst at the same time producing the actors own reflections in a way that reminds us of their entrapment. They can’t escape prison; they can’t escape themselves.
The play implores us to question humanity and freedom, good and evil, religion and atheism. We are drawn to the charming, God-fearing, comical Lucius despite his psychopathic nature and are left to wonder how we assess our morality and whether we can ever truly find redemption. Whilst Guirgis’ script is truly wonderful, the brilliance of this production is that the answers don’t just come from the words; every aspect and element of the show feels relevant and important. Overall, this is a really well thought out, fantastic piece of theatre.
Reviewed by Tobias Graham
Photography by Johan Persson
Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train
Young Vic until 30th March
Previously reviewed at this venue:
KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE
Reviewed – 15th August 2017
“Utterly enchanting …”
This story of a thirteen year old witch who has to leave home, accompanied only by her cat, to find a new town where she can be useful, is utterly enchanting. Kiki is played by Jennifer Leong, who is completely believable as an enthusiastic and not always competent young teenage witch. Her companion is Jiji the cat, a deceptively simple puppet brought to life by the skill of Thomas Gilbey. Although the puppet is much smaller than Gilbey we forget that Jiji is not real because he is given such personality through subtlety of movement and voice. Gilbey meows beautifully!
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Kiki grows up a little during the play, finding her way through difficulties and excitement with the help of Charleen Qwaye’s Osono, a baker in the town. Qwaye’s warmth in this role is palpable and her patience and care for the young witch are touching. Apart from Leong, all the cast play multiple characters, and they do it with panache and an amazing ability to change both costume and character in seconds.
There are some deliciously camp moments such as Stevie Raine’s fashion designer really not liking Kiki’s dress, and a hilarious array of characters, including bitchy teens, a pompous mayor, an horrendous nephew and a florist with attitude. Matthew Durkan’s Tombo is a sweet boy who is fascinated by flying and who becomes Kiki’s firm friend. Tombo is instantly lovable and Durkan plays him with huge charm. Kiki’s parents, Kokiri and Okino, are played by Kanako Nakano and Stevie Raine. They are the background to Kiki’s adventure, reluctantly sending their daughter off on her new life. Nakano also plays the horrendous nephew with great glee. They are a hugely talented ensemble.
Kate Hewitt’s direction is pitch perfect and bold. She knits together puppetry, some great physical moments and seemingly dozens of characters with a lightness of touch that perfectly suits the story. She uses the space well, creating a believable world and allowing the actors to shine in all their roles. Robin Gulver, the movement and puppet director also deserves a mention here, as the results of his work are superb.
The framework for the action is the beautiful and adaptable set, designed by Simon Bejer. As soon as the audience walk into the theatre the atmosphere is established, with Japanese lanterns and a set that hints at a town, hills and a changeable yet stable landscape. Elliot Griggs’ lighting design is gorgeous and transforms the stage, creating a train, a rainy day and much more besides. The lighting interweaves with Max Peppenheim’s soundscape, making the world of the play vivid and alive. Add to this the simple and lovely video design by Andrzej Goulding and you have real magic.
The story was adapted from a novel by Eiko Kadono and is better known as a fantasy anime produced by Studio Ghibli. Kadono says that the story began when she saw a drawing by her daughter, showing a young witch on a broomstick, with a radio tied to it and music notes flying through the air. She looked at it and ‘all at once Kiki was born.’ I am very glad that her daughter drew the picture, because this play is a delight. Only the most deeply cynical could fail to be charmed by this joyful, innocent tale and there can’t have been any cynics in the clapping, whooping audience this evening! Go and see it. Take the kids. Take your granny. Go with your mates. Enjoy the enchantment one evening in Southwark.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography by Helen Murray
KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE
is at The Southwark Playhouse until 3rd September