Anna Kilcooley finds herself amused and challenged by this intriguing one-woman docu-drama...

Image - Scene from The Road to Huntsville. Credit - Graeme Braidwood

As the lights came up in the small brewery theatre, my first thoughts on The Road to Huntsville were, ‘how on earth do I review this?’

Billed as a docu-drama on the lives of women who fall in love with penpals on death row, Stephanie Riding’s one-woman show goes far beyond this. We’ve all seen the documentaries, meant to disturb us from the comfort of our sofas of a Tuesday night. Stories from the condemned, protesting innocence. Sobs from families of victims demanding retribution. Ridings highlights how desensitised to these tales we are, interspersing her account with cat gifs and stories of day to day life researching the project.

Blurring the line between fact and fiction, Ridings takes us on her journey to Huntsville, the town where the state execution chamber carries out its work. Along the way she develops friendships – we’re left wondering if there was ever anything more – with those embroiled in the lives of the inmates, and the inmates themselves.

Despite threads of romance, Ridings makes a grey area feel more so. The narrative takes many twists and sudden turns, offering answers and snatching them back just as quickly. There’s little preaching or offering up of strong opinion, just a reflection of the confusion that many feel over something which is a distant reality in a country which abolished the death penalty over 50 years ago.

The Road to Huntsville is funny, challenging, but overall thought provoking. Proving that once more Bristol is unafraid to host razor-sharp theatre to make you address your judgements and live for an hour in another person’s shoes.

The Road to Huntsville is on at Tobacco Factory Theatres until 17 March 2017. 

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