Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Lucy Roslyn: The State Vs John Hayes

By | Published on Thursday 22 October 2015

An award winning play produced by an award winning company makes its way to the King’s Head Theatre next week. I’d already heard of this piece, because it impressed one of our Edinburgh writers at the 2014 Edinburgh Festival, and I was intrigued by the premise then. It’s a one-person show, written and performed by the talented Lucy Roslyn, and deals with themes of justice, murder and schizophrenia.


I was very interested in finding out more about the play, what inspired it and how it came together, so I sent some questions over to Lucy, ahead of the upcoming London run.

CM: Can you tell us what the play is about? What happens in it?
LR: The State Vs John Hayes is a psychological thriller. It is set in 1950s Texas, in notorious Huntsville Prison. Elyese Dukie, a charismatic killer, is awaiting her final trial for the murders of her husband and her lover. On this one night, possibly her last, she will reveal the truth behind infamous John Hayes: the man she says is responsible for the murders. The result of which will send her directly to either her execution, or to a psychiatric unit for the criminally insane. It’s a one to one really, she’ll tell you her story, and you can make your own decision about what she deserves.

CM: Who exactly is John Hayes?
LR: Jekyll and Hyde.

CM: What made you want to write a play on this particular theme?
LR: I find crime fascinating: what people are capable of, what drove them to it, what you are in the press – a monster – and what you actually feel about it as the guilty party. Sometimes even a terrible crime can sound reasonable, if not forgivable. Fascinating. I read a lot of books about murder (I am currently reading about Albert Pierrepoint, the hangman). I also liked the idea of sitting in direct conversation with a bad guy. Someone who will talk to you, unrepentant about what they have done and see if, by the end, you feel different. This is the kind of play I would really enjoy.

CM: Why did you decide this was suited to a one person play, rather than an ensemble piece?
LR: Hmmm, this is an opportunity to have a one to one with the killer. No one else can intervene or advise what you should think, it’s up to you. Is she manipulating you, or is she telling the truth? Possibly she is a psychopath… you don’t know. Also a part of me felt, when I first wrote it, that if it wasn’t a success at least I was the only person in it!

CM: What kind of research did you do for this? Was it a bit grim, having to put yourself in the mind of a killer?
LR: I read a lot of interviews, case histories, officers’ accounts. It’s impressive what you can uncover if you dig. One of the first drafts I ran past a team of psychologists and asked for a diagnosis. I also had a meeting with a criminal psychologist who worked one to one with a psychopath, and noted how charming he was, what mind games he played… all very interesting. Luckily for me I’ve surrounded myself with people who also enjoy drinking wine and talking murder so we were able to have all these conversations together. Lucky them.

CM: As the writer and performer, how does the process with your director work?
LR: I was very worried what people would make of this play to begin with, but I’ve been privileged to work throughout with creative people who really believe in it. People I really trust. From its creation I worked with Richard Warren and my Boon Dog team, and am now developing it further with Jemma Gross of Epsilon Productions. They are invaluable and supportive minds, and both have had to work with me on it – a first time writer on a solo show… not an enviable task. This is the third time I have worked with Jemma now, she is dynamite. Even with something like this, which I know inside out, we make fascinating discoveries together.

CM: This is your first stage play, isn’t it? When did you first decide you wanted to write?
LR: I am sure I was finding it frustrating as an actor, the roles I would be interested in were not around. I was thinking what would be an ideal character, someone I would love to be in a room with, someone who could ruin your life. My sister Rebecca had just published her first novel (Mr Chartwell) at this time and so I started writing it in her studio while she was working. I am sure she doesn’t know what a big inspiration she is to me… knowing this will make her quite the bighead.

CM: What’s next for you? Any new projects on the horizon…?
LR: Absolutely. It’s exciting to make my own work, hopefully people will enjoy it. Since ‘The State Vs John Hayes’, a friend and I started workshopping a show I wrote for him called ‘The Stooge’, about the remaining half of a double act. This play became the template for what will hopefully be a series set in a travelling circus. My next play will be about a chimpanzee!

‘The State Vs John Hayes’ is on at the King’s Head Theatre from 28 Oct-22 Nov. See this page here for info and to book tickets.

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