Theatre review: The Road to Huntsville @ the Holbeck Underground Ballroom
On Monday evening I returned to the Slung Low HUB for a one woman show – The Road to Huntsville. Stephanie Ridings, the sole performer, plays a chatty, humorous and charmingly relatable character in what starts as a familiar and generally mundane setting. Bored of life and full of fantasies, Stephanie lulls you into a false security with her Bridget-Jones-esque narrative, initially only lightly hinting at the darker subject matter you will later be thrust into.
What begins as whimsical late night ‘research’ and a morbid interest, quickly spirals into an obsession and personal endeavour. “I’m trying to understand women who marry men on death row. I’m trying not to be judgemental,” Stephanie says. Her curiosity leads her to strike up correspondence with a Huntsville prison inmate named Jonny. Through their letters, a world so far from her own becomes chillingly close as Stephanie underestimates how far she is willing to go to chase her fantasies.
Death Row is a subject so far removed from today’s British culture, it is difficult to comprehend, particularly through the medium of entertainment. Stephanie’s bubbly character is the perfect host for a relatively ignorant audience and makes such a controversial subject more palatable and easier to digest.
Stephanie deeply involves her audience in her continuous struggle to rationalise her compassion and emotional connection to Jonny with his reality of being a murderer on death row. In his confinement, with all else taken away, Jonny has only his humanity to offer.
Rather than question Jonny’s guilt or innocence, we as an audience are prompted to question bigger things: The notion of ‘state sanctioned homicide’ and the irony in ‘killing someone for killing someone’. Is justice really served and is the penalty deserved? Stephanie pulls you into the bigger, more grotesque picture, demanding you to leave the comfort of British society and join her in Texas.
The heavy use of electronic equipment in many theatrical productions is unnecessary. However, in this instance the film clips and photos projected behind her allow the audience to experience fractions of Stephanie’s physical journey, along with the soundtrack which subtly takes you on her emotional journey, too.
The amalgamation of research and fiction is so smooth that by the end of the play, the audience is left wondering how much of the story has been fabricated and how much is Stephanie’s genuine experience. In a 60-minute monologue you can only hope to graze the surface of the subject of the death penalty, but it is definitely a piece that leaves you contemplating what in the world is ‘justice’.
Reviewed by Electra Constance Carr at Slung Low Hub, 31st July 2016.