Death row comes to Durham in 12 South Theatre company’s production of ‘The Road to Huntsville’. Originally written by Stephanie Ridings, the play follows Steph (played by Ellie McIntyre), a writer researching women who have fallen in love with inmates on Death Row. Yet, as she learns more, as she begins writing to a inmate, as letters accumulate onstage, she finds it harder to separate her personal life from her career.
The set design is sparse, with a table on one side, leaving Ellie plenty of room to explore the space as the monologue changes in tone. Particularly inventive was the use of a projector and laptop, mimicking a PowerPoint presentation as the monologue progressed. A surprising amount of impact is created through the slide changing, revealing a new picture or exposition image, contrasting or completing the tone of the monologue.
Unfortunately, at times the video quality obscures some key moments of exposition on the slides. This is obviously a limitation of the equipment available, but occasional projected text is difficult (or near impossible) to decipher. The sound quality is also not great, making some lines harder to hear.
However, Ellie McIntyre manages to project her lines clearly and consistently throughout the piece, causing the sound quality to rarely become an issue. Disarmingly friendly, Ellie’s performance grabs your attention from the very beginning, carrying you through the twists and turns of the script. Ranging from the casual delivery of a joke to the emotional vulnerability of a confession, Ellie gives new life to the monologue. The lighting especially highlights these moments, with spotlights occasionally emphasising the exposed nature of the script.
Props are utilised effectively, and occasionally unexpectedly, adding a dynamism to the production which might otherwise feel static. Particularly effective is the use of letters, which occasionally clutter the stage, symbolically representing Steph’s emotional state.
I would highly recommend checking out ‘The Road to Huntsville’, tickets available at Assembly Rooms Theatre over the weekend. Enthralling, superbly acted, and effectively staged, the production is well worth a watch.