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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Original London Review
Re-Review when Jerusalem returned to the West End
With a curtain that's a replica of St. George’s flag with the words "The English Stage Company’" emblazoned across the top, Jerusalem does indeed announce its Englishness loud and clear. But to answer that question with a question: Has Shakespeare ever been too English to be constantly performed on American stages?
Granted not everyone will take to Butterworth's epic that's a send-up of the current state of the nation as well as an ode to forest roaming pranksters like Robin Hood and Shakespeare's fairies. Without Mark Rylance to play the modern day woodlands outlaw it probably would never have made it to Broadway, no matter how ecstatic its London reception. But the Music Box is not a huge venue, the show is scheduled for a limited run and so doesn't have to be a monster hit like Phantom of the Opera.
The question that no one need worry about is whether Rylance's performance is really all that good. As Johnny "Rooster" Byron, a lusty and grandiose character the Bard himself might have created, Rylance is even better than in the roles that have endeared him to the American public. And as the anti-heroic Byron is a Pied Piper for the teenaged children of the conventional home owners near his outlaw dwelling, so his interpreter is also the Pied Piper who will entice all who appreciate plays of substance and great acting to fill the seats at the Music Box.
Mr. Rylance's peformance is undisputably masterful. He makes us laugh at his tall tales and respond to the tragically Falstaffian melancholy beneath the bravado of man without a moral bone in a body. The lameness of that body is a reminder of his daredevil stuntman days , as well as a symbol of less visible emotional wounds.
The play itself is also very much the thing to make Jerusalem well worth seeing, as are the characters who come and go. Butterworth's elegy to old England and send-up of the country's grayer and grimmer social and physical landscape is a wonderful old-fashioned drama. Under Ian Rickson's direction it is a model of synergy between serious themes and comedy. The mood and central theme (counter culture represented by Rooster's woodland existence and the nearby village establishment that wants him evicted) are instantly established through the action and dialogue, as well as sharp visual touches — for example the name Waterloo (as in one of England's most triumphant battles) painted on the mobile home that dominates the stage turns out to be a defiant but futile symbol of Johnny Rooster's 27-years of thumbing his nose at his tax-paying, deed-owning neighbors.
Since Curtainup's reviews of Jerusalem at London's Royal Court and the Apollo detail what Johnny and his various hangers-on and enemies get up to in the course of some 24 hours, I've re-posted both reviews below mine to avoid repetition. The design team has repeated its wizadry and a number of the excellent London players are still on board,. Fortunately that includes Mackenzie Crook as Ginger, Johnny's most devoted acolyte again a standout. Just as tortunately, the American players who have joined the cast are also splendid.
John Gallagher Jr., who now plays the only teen likely to cut loose from the drab village life and druggy forest hangout, has been one of the busiest and never typecast young actors in New York . He's distinguishied himself in both straight plays and musicals. In fact, there was a moment at the beginning of that had me feeling as if I were back at Gallagher's last gig, American Idiot. That moment is a flashing, psychedelic counterpoint to the curtain raiser that brings a young girl dressed as a fairy in front of the curtain . No sooner does she finishesinging a verse from the William Blake'poem that's become the unofficial English anthem. from which the play takes its title, than the curtain pops up on a burst of flashing lights, loud music and people frantically singing and dancing.
The role of Wesley, the local bartender has found a fine new interpreter in Max Baker Geraldine Hughes who recently played the title role in the Irish Rep's revival of Brian Friel's Molly Sweeney, is full of fire as Dawn, who obviously still cares for Johnny but can no longer tolerate his neglect of their young son.
As the American actors have moved quite comfortably into the cast that's been with Jerusalem since last year, so I found myself getting into the play even though I didn't immediately GET all the references to things distinctly English. If I have any quibbles, it's not that Jerusalem is too English to appeal to American audiences, but that at three hours all these tale tellers, even Johnny Byron, do tend to overstay their welcome just a bit. Still, what's an occasional slow spot, when the sum total is so totally unmissable!
Links to other Butterworth plays we've reviewed
Parlour Song -New York
Parlour Song -London
The Night Heron-New York
The Night Heron-London
Original London Review
Re-Review when Jerusalem returned to the West End
Butterworth's new Jerusalem sees the residents of the new housing estates of his play Parlour Song set against the traditional countryman and squatter. They object to the riotous parties, to the rubbish tip sofas but more than anything to the attraction Rooster's home has as a place for their teenage children to hang out, get drunk and experiment with drugs and sex. The faceless enforcers of the local authority court order seem to relish posting their notice and from the caravan there is the noise of a dog barking and then whining but we are told Byron doesn't have a dog!
Jerusalem may well be regarded as Butterworth's masterpiece with its skillful blend of comedy and tragedy which sees the remarkable Ian Rickson's return to the Court to direct. Mark Rylance is in fine form, having honed his comic timing at the Globe, his performance is pitch perfect as he manages to win a place in our hearts as the scurrilous, not a moral bone in his body, Byron. Mackenzie Crook is superbly cast as Byron's mournful but loyal acolyte, Ginger, who we first meet the day after the party to end all parties which the hapless Ginger has missed. As the events of the night before are conveyed to Ginger, Byron too has his alcohol driven selective memory jolted to reveal exactly what he got up to. It's wonderful to watch his humiliating reminder! As the tale emerges so do the characters who have been asleep on the site, one boy from inside a sofa, Lee (Tom Brooke) and two girls from under the caravan, Pea and Tanya ( essica Barden and Charlotte Mills).
Ultz's set is dominated by the aluminum coloured caravan and real trees with real chickens scratching around under the caravan. Piles of chopped logs show how much of the wood Byron himself has felled. Byron appears in fairground eccentric clothing, strange hats and military helmets, vests and tattoos. Wesley (Gerard Horan) the local publican puts in an appearance in Morris Dancer clothing, bells on his knees and handkerchiefs to wave — to promote his pub. He explains about the traditional dancing "I'm no expert, but to me it says I have completely lost my self respect." We also see Byron as a less than responsible parent in the context of Dawn, the estranged mother of his child (Lucy Montgomery) and his little boy Marky (Lenny Harvey/Lewis Coppen).
Byron is full of wonderful folklore stories like the time he was fleeced at canasta playing with some little old ladies in a retirement home outside Wootton Bassett and, after a night on Drambuie and custard creams, in the morning he saw a giant. Byron's England is ancient and mysterious woodland, with tales of Druids and ley lines, standing stones and mythical figures, about to be ruined by housing development sanctioned by the Kennet and Avon District Council who have agreed to evict Byron under public health legislation. Through the unlikely figure of the sleazy but individual anti-hero Johnny Byron we realize that Butterworth's powerful play is about the destruction of the English country side. There are only a few weeks to see this magnificent production.
Re-review When Jerusalem returned to the West End
by Tim Newns
As before, we are swept away by the storyteller Jonny ‘Rooster’ Byron on an alcohol and drug infused adventure of giants, fairgrounds and Nigerian traffic wardens. This play is a deep rooted analysis of our country and our values and beliefs that draws us to a rather damning conclusion of who we are today, what we believe is right and who we can rely on.
Jezz Butterworth’s play, which won Best Play in the Evening Standard Awards, remains to be exceedingly funny. Butterworth’s writing has that impeccable ability to humour us consistently yet to also be deliciously dark. The dialogue is so real, poignant and modern but also has a rather magical coating. Even though what we are watching is so relatable and recognisable, we nevertheless are constantly drawn into a ‘mythical’ heightened sense of realism. Home to Stonehenge, Druids and country fairs, we are on the borders of the West Country that we all know and love but quite often we feel as if we are sliding deep into one of Rooster’s very own tales.
Everything about the production from the beautifully coloured woodland set and silver caravan designed by Ultz, the outstanding perfection of Mimi Jordan Sherin’s lighting, to Ian Dickinson’s atmospheric and ‘other-worldly’ sound design fuses to create a tour de force of modern theatre. Ian Rickson again directs in a stunning production where any minor flaws, not that I could pin point any, are quickly washed away by the brilliance and magic of the play and the spotless performances of the cast.
Mark Rylance plays the hilarious yet tragic figure of Rooster with timely perfection. His performance is so watchable and mesmerizing it is only by the exceptional talent of the supporting cast that stop us from being taken away completely into Rooster’s world of narcotics and forest fairies. Rylance’s performance plants him firmly as one of the most talented actors of the 21st Century and it is to no surprise that he won Best Actor in the Critic’s Circle Awards.
Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth
Directed by Ian Rickson
Starring: Mark Rylance, Mackenzie Crook
With: Aimée-Ffion Edwards, Sarah Moyle, Harvey Robinson, Alan David, Tom Brooke, Danny Kirrane, Jessica Barden, Charlotte Mills, Gerard Horan, Amy Beth Hayes, Charlie Dunbar-Aldred/Lenny Harvey/ Jake Noble, Barry Sloane, Marc Baylis, Tom Meredith
Lighting: Mimi Jordan Sherin
Sound: Ian Dickinson for Autograph
Running time: 3 hours 5 minutes with one full interval and a second, shorter interval.
Box Office: 0844 412 4658
Booking at the Apollo Theatre to 24th April 2010
Re-reviewed by Tim Newns based on 10th February 2010 performance at the ApolloTheatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1V 7HD (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)