Jerusalem – it’s one not to miss and one of the most astounding things you will ever see on a theatre stage. That’s what I’ve been told about Jez Butterworth’s play. Unfortunately I completely missed out on watching it during its first run in the West End. You can probably imagine how happy I was when I heard that it was returning for another run and that Mark Rylance was reprising his award winning role
So what exactly is Jerusalem about? Seriously, I have no idea how to put it in words. It’s the story of an outsider (Johnny “Rooster” Byron) who lives illegally in a caravan on the edge of a village. But it’s not the story of his life. It’s more of an insight in his way of living, his personality and the people that surround him. He supplies booze and drugs to the locals (even teenagers), hosts all night parties and generally does whatever he feels like. And he has just received notice from the authorities that he has to leave the land he has unlawfully poached.
There’s a nice litte feature in the programme entitled “Jez Butterworth on Jerusalem” which I read while waiting for the play to start:
“In 1994, I moved to Wiltshire and met a man who was banned from every pub in the village. I once picked him up and he was light as a feather. A month later I walked into him in the streets by mistake and it was like walking into a tree. Ten years earlier I worked on a market in St Albans, where a man walked past with a big ginger moustache, in a leather cowboy hat, boots and chaps, horse-brasses on his belt. He lived in a caravan behind Marks and Spencers and collected glasses in the pub. They tried to throw him him off his patch, but he refused to go. The night before the police came to evict him, he doused his home in petrol, burned it to the ground, and disappeared. Fifteen years later I broke a finger playing cricket, went to the hospital, where I met a man who told me he was there to sell his blood. It was a rare strain, and he was the last person in England who had it. Seventeen years earlier I worked in an old hotel kitchen as a kitchen porter, where the old Welsh waiter told me that the previous night he had had a dream that he had been kidnapped by Nigerian traffic wardens. Ten years later I had a conversation with a publican over a hedge, who wpt and told me he was trapped, that he could never, ever, set foot in his pub again. Then he went back there and worked another fifteen years. A year earlier I’d sat in a village hall and watched the outgoing May Queen hand her crown to the new May Queen. The Old Queen was very cool and aloof, until the moment came, whereupon she burst into tears, and ran out. Ten years earlier, to avoid doing cross country in the rain, each Thursday I visited an old lady who lived near my school. Each time she opened the door she would say “Hello Maureen”. Twenty years later I met a man in a pub who killed 200 cows a day. He was 64 years old and had never left the West Country. In March 1980 a girl in my class at school went out to the dual carriageway, flagged down a lorry and ended up in Scotland. On June 1 2003 I was driving through rural Dorset when I came round a bend and there was a hand-painted sign that said “Rooster’s Wood. Keep Out.” The next day on the A30 outside Upavon, just past the Little Chef, I met a giant who said he built Stonehenge. That is, if you believe him…”
I had no idea what the man was talking about!
I read the same text again after watching the play and suddenly it all made sense. Well, more or less at least. The whole play is still rather confusing and definitely not your typical every day theatre experience. But then that’s one of the reasons it’s so very special. Jerusalem shatters the myth of England as a “green and pleasant land” (the plays name is taken from a poem by William Blake that describes England as just that). Instead is puts the focus on the outcasts – Rooster and his friends – who basically sit around all day unwilling to accept or deal with any change. There’s Lee, for example, who is about to emigrate to Australia with little to no money but makes it clear throughout the play that he can’t see himself leaving at all. Or there’s Davey who has never even been beyond the borders of the village.
The play wanders on the ground of comedy for the first 2 acts and shows a disturbing and very graphic picture of violence in act 3.
Mark Rylance gives the performance of a lifetime as Rooster. I wasn’t sure anyone could live up to the hype surrounding this play but he certainly did. I would go as far as to say he even exceeded any expectation I had prior to watching Jerusalem. He plays the eccentric character with such an intensity and passion that it’s hard to take your eyes off him.
Mackenzie Crook (probably best known for playing the one eyes pirate in the Pirates of the Caribbean triology and for British TV show The Office) plays Rooster’s friend Ginger, an underdog and aspiring DJ (he is in fact an unemployed plasterer) who is constantly teased by Rooster and the others in the group. This is the second play I’ve seen Mackenzie Crook in and once again he showed off his great acting skills. He is absolutely perfectly cast in this play and I enjoyed his performance tremendously.
The rest of the cast featured Alan David as the Professor, Max Baker as Wesley, Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Phaedra, Johnny Flynn as Lee, Geraldine Hughes as Dawn, Danny Kirrane as Davey, Sophie McShera as Pea, Charlotte Mills as Tanya, Sarah Moyle as Ms Fawcett, Harvey Robinson as Mr. Parsons and Barry Sloane as Troy Whitworth most of whom have been in the show since the first run at the Royal Court Theatre in 2009.
I’m still not sure I have come to terms with the whole play completely. Although we see the characters just sitting around and talking for most of the show it still is an extremely complex piece of theatre that definitely gets you thinking.
If you can get a ticket please, please go and watch this one. It’s something that will stay in your head for a long time. Plus every theatregoer should experience something as pure and brilliant as this at least once. This is the most powerful new play I have seen in my life and Mark Rylance performance is the most enthralling thing I’ve ever witnessed on a theatre stage. Definitely not to be missed and beyond amazing!
Catch Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre until January 14th 2012. For info and tickets go to http://www.jerusalemtheplay.com