Tag Archives: Ukweli Roach

Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train

Young Vic

Jesus Hopped The A Train

Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train

Young Vic

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:
Fun Home | ★★★★★ | June 2018


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Nightfall – 3 Stars



Bridge Theatre

Reviewed – 9th May 2018


“injected with too many rants; the venom inherent in the language needs to be drip-fed for a subtler, yet stronger, effect”


Barney Norris writes in his programme notes for “Nightfall” that he tries to give voice to people who ‘steer by different stars’. It is clear that he has a passion for the characters he writes about, and he invites us to treat their lives as the ‘centre of the world for the duration of an evening’. With his track record to date this seems a reasonable request. However, while displaying his hallmark themes of love, loss and grief in the familiar territory of rural England, his latest offering falls short of its promise.

We are in an English backwater farm’s ramshackle garden that is dominated by an oil pipeline. Ryan (Sion Daniel Young) who is desperately trying to keep the farm alive after the death of his father the previous year, is illegally siphoning off the oil with the help of his jail-bird friend Pete (Ukweli Roach). The two represent the fight against capitalism, and their onstage chemistry does make their back story credible. The female counterparts are on shakier ground. Claire Skinner, miscast as the grief-torn widow, does her best to convey the protective mother, but battles with a text that refuses to instil empathy into her character. We fail to feel any sense of sadness as she ultimately drives Lou, her daughter, away. Despite this, Ophelia Lovibond skilfully encapsulates the dichotomy of a daughter torn between the desire to escape her derelict life and the loyalty to the mother she will leave behind. Lovibond has the best monologues even though she often seems to be quoting from the lyrics of Talking Head’s ‘Once In A Lifetime’.

The symbolism is all there, and Norris’ message is clear, but it lacks the electrifying vibrancy of, say, Jez Butterworth’s ‘Jerusalem’ or the poignancy of Chekhov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard’. Norris skims the surface of his themes, but it is merely a scratch which doesn’t let you fully see beneath, leaving you uncertain as to whether the waters are deep or merely cloudy.

The mood changes significantly for the second act. Where the cast seemed awkward with the script in the first half, they now embrace the deliberate awkwardness of the dialogue. Exposition gives way to a more human story, and the confusion wrought by the conflicting emotions becomes clearer. But we are still left wanting more vitriol, as the subject matter requires it. Director Laurie Sansom’s production is injected with too many rants; the venom inherent in the language needs to be drip-fed for a subtler, yet stronger, effect.

One hopes this is a dent in the hitherto early promise of the Bridge Theatre’s programming. It does seem an odd choice for the scale of the Bridge Theatre, although Rae Smith’s fabulous set does fill the space – occupying the parts of the auditorium that the actors’ voices fail to reach at times. Likewise, the thrust of the play stalls before it reaches the circle.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Manuel Harlan 



Bridge Theatre until 26th May


Previously reviewed at this venue
Julius Caesar | ★★★★★ | January 2018


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