JERWOOD THEATRE DOWNSTAIRS
The Royal Court Theatre presents...
Written by Jez Butterworth
10 Jul - 15 Aug
"My dad said he jumped buses. Horseboxes. Jumped an aqueduct once. He was gonna jump Stonehenge but the council put a stop to it."
On St George's Day, the morning of the local county fair, Johnny Byron, local waster and modern day Pied Piper, is a wanted man. The council officials want to serve him an eviction notice, his children want their dad to take them to the fair, Troy Whitworth wants to give him a serious kicking and a motley crew of mates want his ample supply of drugs and alcohol.
Jez Butterworth's new play is a comic, contemporary vision of life in our green and pleasant land. His previous plays for the Royal Court include The Winterling, The Night Heron andMojo.
Director Ian Rickson
Lighting Mimi Jordan Sherin
Sound Ian Dickinson for Autograph
Composer Stephen Warbeck
Cast includes Jessica Barden, Tom Brooke, Greg Burridge, Lewis Coppen, Mackenzie Crook, Alan David, Aimeé-Ffion Edwards, Lenny Harvey, Gerard Horan, Danny Kirrane, Charlotte Mills, Lucy Montgomery, Sarah Moyle, Dan Poole, Harvey Robinson, Mark Rylance, Barry Sloane
Running time 3hrs 10mins approx, including 2 intervals
We walk in to see a fire curtain showing a faded grubby St George's cross.
A strip of real park turf along the front littered with beer cars Vodka bottles and plastic bags. A couple of stumps - an empty beer glass on one - and a tin water tank.
Or the left a pile of firewood - its neatness in incongruous contrast to the dirty mess around it. and beside it an abandoned old car seat
Vaughan Williams’ 'The Lark Ascending' swells and soars.
The smell of smoke.
15 year old Phaedre comes on dressed as a fairy and sings 2 verses of Jerusalem before being drowned out by loud pounding rock music
The Curtain rises on a party in full swing seen through strobe lighting.
Lights up bright on two community liaison officers official in safety yellow waistcoats surveying the debris and then serving eviction notice from the Council on Rooster and his old silver metal Waterloo caravan. This despite the amplified dog noises Rooster is yelling through his loud hailer
From the first moment of his entrance we are held mesmerised watching him cast his spells over his court of motley youngsters left over from the party - and Ginger who has managed to miss it -and then the locals who are pulled in to his rubbishy drug & alcohol banked camp: the local professor who will wander through and enjoy the Fair day in their company tripping on the acid tabs they've slipped him; the landlord of Cooper 's pub festooned in full Morris Dancer bells and handkerchiefs for the village Fair and who needs to get high for the day to do it; the local bully boy looking for his missing daughter - the 15yr old Phaedre - and promising violence when he finds her.
And Rooster drinks and charms and swaggers and spins his yarns and weaves his magic on us all.
The second act reminds even move of a modern day Falstaff, enveloping his followers with tales of daring and fairytale and drugs and alcohol.
Then the arrival of a little boy Markey - Rooster's son - in place of the giant that might have been summoned by the drum - and his mother who is still caught in her appetite for Rooster and for his whizz despite now having a new man waiting.
Then the third act with the inevitable ostracising and street justice for Rooster before he is left to meet the official justice of the evicting bulldozer, bloodied, branded but defiantly unbowed.
The girls are vacuous and more thinly drawn than the boys and this is very much a play about men with no interest in the women beyond their relations with the main man Rooster and sometimes to other men. Ah me, it was ever thus but this is a frustrating weakness in a play called 'Jerusalem' and aspiring to give us an updated portrayal of England's pleasant pastures green turned unholy in small town small scale corruption. And while it is very funny, a number of the laughs sounded brutal to me - more the collusion of a mob at an easy weakling than the delighted sparkle of sprung enlightenment.
There is nothing especially new in this story. But it's enormous charisma and potency comes from the writing and performance of Johnny "Rooster" Byron. Mark Rylance shows us a man who is mesmerising complex funny frightened fantastical and fierce. He is Falstaff in all his vainglorious boasting, he is Don Juan purring the women into helpless devotion, he is Don Quixote tilting at windmills, the misunderstood outsider, the sensitive friend, the disgusting drunk, the mischievous prankster, the amoral dealer and the brawling thug.
And throughout this three+ hours the balance is held dangerously tight between a recognisably malevolent reality of small town low life and an heroic poetic sweep of the noble epic - pitching the misunderstood and much maligned hero against a world of contemporary monsters.
So long as you don’t care about the invisibility of the women.