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The Exonerated directed by Joseph Houston. Hope Mill Theatre Manchester. Photo Shay Rowan

REVIEW | The Exonerated | Hope Mill Theatre

Netflix meets theatre in the Hope Mill Theatre’s latest venture in revolutionising The Exonerated – a play about the stories of real life people on death row. Directed by the Hope Mill’s very own Joseph Houston, it’s an innovative and gripping production.

With programmes like Making A Murderer and podcasts like Serial, true crime is a genre that has people hooked. The Exonerated is a play by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen about people who are wrongly sentenced to death. During the summer of 2000, Jensen and Blank travelled to interview 40 former death row inmates who had served up to 22 years in prison.

Since 1976, 1499 people have been executed in the US and since 1973, 165 people have been released from Death Row with evidence of their innocence.

Living in a culture of absorbing ourselves in true crime documentaries from the comfort of our living room, Joseph Houston had the idea to create that feeling but intertwined with the thrill of live theatre. With the audiences sat either side of a grid topped with barbed wire and a screen on the outside, we switch between two worlds. There is the documentary style interviews with the inmates and then the reenactments of their lives inside and outside of jail portrayed right in front of us.

It’s seriously clever as you find yourself completely entranced on these stories as we meet a group of people that have experienced being wrongly convicted. It’s moving to hear their stories as they talk of the pain and torture they experienced in a situation they couldn’t get out of. Whether it’s because of racial discrimination, mistaken identity or purely unfortunate timing, each of them delve into what happened to land them in such a terrifying position.

Joseph Houston has superbly directed this piece to slickly transition from the on-screen interviews to the impactful moments of live theatre. The video interviews are so remarkably acted by Gary Fannin, Jack Kristiansen, Law X, Pippa Winslow and Kevin Mathurin. I literally believed they were the real interviews until I looked in the programme to find they’re actors. The videographer Grant Archer has done a tremendous job executing these interviews that allow you to really connect with these people. 

We are taken through the story by Charles Angiama as Delbert who engrosses the audience in the severity of how being on Death Row affects these people’s lives. The small cast of Rebecca Eastham, Ben Boskovic, Richard Galloway and Jason Lamar Ricketts really bring the story to life and the frightening lack of consistency in the judicial system. 

The Exonerated is re-imagined in a unique way that combines convincing performances and multimedia to create an entirely thought-provoking piece of theatre about true crime. 

★★★★ ★

On until Monday 16 June, tickets and information can be found on their website.

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