Review: 'Riding the Midnight Express with Billy Hayes'

In his one-man play, Billy Hayes tells the real story of Midnight Express. Hayes wrote the book about his smuggling adventures, which was adapted by Oliver Stone for the silver screen version in 1978.

A seasoned hash smuggler, Hayes got busted on his fourth run leaving Istanbul Airport in 1970. He spent the next five years in Turkish prisons.

Hayes says the film's director Alan Parker got the bust right but that's about it. The courtroom scene in which Hayes delivers an obscenity-laced defense, he maintains never happened. The biggest departure from the actual story is which prison he eventually escaped from. After his sentence was extended to 30 years, Hayes petitioned to be moved to the island prison on Imali in the Sea of Mamara. which he believed gave him a better chance of escape.

Hayes spends the last third of his 70-minute monologue detailing the escape, which took him by dinghy back to Istanbul. He walked 150 miles to Greece and freedom.

After the show, the 67-year-old performer takes questions from the audience and sells books. "The movie doesn't represent the Turkey that I knew," he railed. "I didn't kill that guard," Hayes added about the guard who dies at his hands in the film. After Parker showed him Midnight Express, Hayes asked. "Where's my row boat?"

Hayes, who was locked up due to the international War on Drugs, remains opposed to prohibition. "I'm so happy to see things are changing," he smiled.

Riding the Midnight Express with Billy Hayes is at the Barrow Street Theatre (27 Barrow St.) through November.

Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.