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Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train at HOME - Review

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. https://uk.linkedin.com/pub/david-keyworth/49/b3a/b83
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Crime and Punishment
While HOME's main theatre stages an epic of twentieth-century American drama Long Day's Journey into Night, the studio theatre upstairs is showing a first-class American play from the twenty-first century.

Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train premiered off-Broadway at the East 13th Street Theatre (New York) in 2000, in a production directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Elysium Theatre Company, in only their second production, presents this staging at HOME.

The backdrop to the action, directed by Jake Murray, is a giant USA flag. As the play opens, a barbed wire-pattern is projected on to it.

HOME, Manchester, theatre, Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train, Elysium Theatre Company, Stephen Adly Guirgis
Danny Solomon (Angel Cruz) in Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Jake Murray for the Elysium Theatre Company. Photo by Mark Russell.


Angel Cruz (Danny Solomon) and Lucius Jenkins (Faz Singhateh) are incarcerated at Rikers Island - New York's top security prison.

They have one hour away from their cells each day – in adjacent cages. They argue and riff off each other, while the merciless guard, Valdez (Alastair Gillies), counts down the time left and insults them.

There are no angels in this play by Stephen Adly Guirgis – just degrees of guilt and mitigation.

HOME, Manchester, theatre, Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train, Elysium Theatre Company, Stephen Adley Guirgis
Alastair Gillies (Valdez) and Faz Singhateh (Lucius Jenkins). Photo by Mark Russell.


Alice Bryony Frankham plays Angel's lawyer – Mary Jane Hanrahan. She is the least developed character but, despite her earnestness, she is not averse to bending the truth. She is happy for Angel to deceive and manipulate the jury, so long as it gets the 'not guilty' verdict she is seeking for him.

HOME, Manchester, theatre, Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train, Elysium Theatre Company, Stephen Adley Guirgis
Alice Frankham (Mary Jane Hanrahan) and Danny Solomon (Angel Cruz). Photo by Mark Russell.


Faz Singhateh fully absorbs himself in the role of Lucius. He waxes lyrical in an orange jumpsuit and wins our sympathy – and that of kindly guard Charlie D'Amico (Garth Williams) – at least until we take stock of the severity of his crimes.

"Deliver me from me," Lucius says in one of his extended sermons to the prison bars or anyone who is in earshot.

The play addresses the issue of racial bias in the justice system. "It's funny how people pay attention when white people start dying," Lucius observes.

However, the main debates centre on issues of personal responsibility and the possibility of redemption. Is the Christian faith which Lucius expounds anything more than self-preservation? Is it a sign that he has fundamentally changed or just a way of deflecting his guilt?

Has Angel recognised the consequences of his actions and would he become a wiser, less impulsive person if he were released from the prison?

HOME, Manchester, theatre, Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train, Elysium Theatre Company, Stephen Adley Guirgis
Faz Singhateh (Lucius Jenkins). Photo by Mark Russell.


Stephen Adly Guirgis's script has a rattling rhythm, which stops the two-hour play from hitting the buffers. It is also spray-gunned with swear words – not surprisingly for a playwright whose other titles include The Mother f*****r With The Hat.

There was only one scene towards the end which felt over-long – especially as it repeated arguments we had already heard.

However, Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train is definitely a play to catch before it departs from HOME. It bodes well for the future of the Durham-based Elysium Theatre Company – which was set up in 2016 to deliver 'the best new plays and world theatre to the North'.

@ElysiumTc
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Why? A-Star American Drama at HOME
Phone: 0161 200 1500
Where: First Street MANCHESTER M15 4FN
Cost: £12.50 full (concs. available)
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