The premise of The Exonerated is based on the interviews of real-life death row inmates who have been freed after being wrongly convicted, some incarcerated for up to 20 years.
If you are a fan of the recent craze of TV crime documentaries that have hit Netflix over the past couple of years and you want to immerse yourself in them in a way which is both powerful and thought provoking, then head to Hope Mill Theatre to catch The Exonerated before it is too late.
Tickets for the Jessica Blank and Eric Jensen play have been selling fast with most performances sold out, which is no surprise if you are one of the lucky ones who gets to see it. From the moment you take your seats you know that you in for something truly unique, where live theatre meets video footage and blends together seamlessly.
Through a series of screen monologues shown on a huge TV, on stage flashbacks of court cases and interview room interactions, the actions which found them arrested are played out in front of your eyes. It is a unique and innovative theatre experience that grips you from the start and has you transfixed until the curtain call.
All six of the actors playing the inmates (who were eventually ‘exonerated’) are so incredibly believable in their performances I found myself having to double check the programme to make sure what we were seeing on screen was not the actual people who had been incarcerated.
Hats off to Jane Dietch for her impeccable casting, especially of Jack Kristiansen (Kerry) and Pippa Winslow (Sunny) whose portrayals are both moving and incredibly heart-wrenching, as their pain radiates from the screen to the audience.
It’s a shame we only get to see the six on screen and they are not around in person to receive the overwhelming applause for their acting ability.
Aside from the screen actors there’s a strong team of multi-actors who play numerous roles on stage (Ben Boskovic, Rebecca Eastham, Richard Galloway and Jason Lamar Ricketts). Their versatility shines throughout, led by Charles Angiama who plays a narrator like character Delbert weaving all the stories together with a passion and intensity.
Director Joe Houston has taken a risk here in combining live theatre and screen acting but it has certainly paid off and given this 2002 play a brand new dimension which is so relevant to today’s viewing consumption.
Whilst you can’t ‘Netflix and chill’ with The Exonerated it does have more than a few nods to the on-demand streaming service. Expect familiar fonts, icons and even the constant flicking through the content at the start (which no one can deny they are not guilty of)!
Despite a film version of the play back in 2005 and a London revival at the Riverside Studios, starring Stockard Channing in 2006, this Northern premiere of The Exonerated packs its own punch in bucket loads with Houston’s addition of pre-recorded video footage giving it a real twist, looking that realistic you believe it is genuinely taking place in the real-life inmates homes.
Special mentions to the creative team, all of whom add to the impact The Exonerated leaves on you; designer Jessica Stanton has created an incredible traverse stage setting with the audience on either side of the action.
The actors are encased in the middle by a huge wire fence (signifying the death row incarceration) and making the audience members feel like they are part of the jury when it comes to court room flashbacks. The lighting by Aaron J Dootson is also impressive adding to the build-up of the intense atmosphere, with shadows, mood lighting and vivid flashes of red for the murder scenes.
The Exonerated is an unsettling watch at times but an incredibly important piece of theatre. It hits home the harsh reality of what has happened to over 165 people who have been released from death row following evidence of their innocence.
The Exonerated once again cements Hope Mill as a theatre which excels in breaking boundaries and making bold choices for their featured productions.
The Exonerated runs at Hope Mill Theatre until 16th June
Venue: Hope Mill Theatre
Dates: Until Sunday 16th June
Cost: From £10 (+ £1.50 booking fee)
Hope Mill Theatre, 113 Pollard St, Manchester M4 7JA
0161 275 9141