Young Vic. On until 30 March
This darkly comic, thought provoking play has a perfect cast of characters: a young man awaiting trial for shooting a cult leader in the arse to try and rescue his buddy, a charismatic serial killer who manipulates all but the most sadistic of guards around him, and a defence lawyer who feels a moral sense of purpose to help those who stand up for themselves.
Set on a traverse stage with perspex walls and doors, we’re reminded of the subway ‘A’ train of the title. Many scenes become verbal battles pitched back and forth between the characters as they tell their stories, lies or myths. Angel (played superbly by Ukweli Roach) is the angry young man pitched into the American justice system awaiting trial. We first meet him in his cell attempting to recite the Lord’s Prayer but stumbling over the word “hallowed” as clearly this is an unfamiliar recitation for him, but one he feels he needs in this moment of crisis. And when he meets his lawyer (Dervla Kirwan) he rejects her for not looking like the type of lawyer he’s seen on TV, like Columbo, in a suit and with a moustache!
Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, whose only previous work I’d seen was the National’s staging of The Motherfucker with the Hat (and which I’ll be honest underwhelmed me), here brings vivid stories and characters to life with a sharpness of writing that is beguiling. The charismatic serial killer Lucius, played superbly by Oberon K. A. Adjepong, had me convinced I too would be smuggling him in special Oreos for him if I were in there with him. Whilst Valdez (Joplin Sibtain) as the sadist prison guard had quickly turned the whole audience against him, and yet it was only through his cruelty that he protected himself from the charms and wiles of Lucius.
The themes of good and evil, right and wrong, salvation and redemption are not too far from the surface, but not thickly layered on as you’re swept along by Angel’s story and where it will end. False prophets are here too, both in Lucius and the unnamed cult leader Angel shoots. Angel can see the latter as one to rescue his friend from, but fails to see the danger of his fellow prisoner. Like the Mary Jane, Angel’s lawyer, who risks her career to save Angel, we as the audience are willing Angel on to do his best on the stand and be freed. Whether it was the writing, the acting or the perfect alchemy between the two, but I too would have risked it all to save Angel. And there perhaps is no better praise for the play and this production.
This current season of the Young Vic is certainly proving to be exciting, refreshing and unmissable.
February 15. (Downstairs B53-4)