15th October, 2011
The day before I saw this, I had a look online to see if there were any tickets left for Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem. I, like so many others, were attracted to the appeal of Mark Rylance’s performance and the masses of five star reviews and awards that Ian Rickson’s production had garnered. Bearing in mind that tickets nearly sold out within the first 24 hours of advance bookings opening I was doubtful that I would find one, however there was a restricted view ticket in the upper circle worth around £47 left. I thought that I would leave it and take my chance at day seating. Fortunately, I managed to get a £10 day seat for the matinee in Box A. Being at stage level and making eye contact with the actors throughout, this was clearly the best tenner I had ever spent.
The opening sequence is brilliantly theatrical: a culture clash of a girl who seems like a mythical nymph singing the famous English hymn ‘Jerusalum’ being interrupted with The Prodigy’s ‘Invaders Must Die’ blasting out over a party outside a caravan at the edge of woodland in Somerset. The play in interested in England’s identity and this opening perfectly reflects the battle of England’s quaint countryside, important history and ancient traditions with housing estates, council bureaucracy and conformist ideas.
The outsider, eccentric character of Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron is at the centre of the play. Squatting in a caravan and holding parties where teenagers often have their first experiences with alcohol, sex and drugs, he is certainly unconventional and unwanted by council officials and parents alike. Mark Rylance’s Rooster Byron is one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. He sticks his chest out and hobbles about in a half-drunk state for most of the play. His first appearance sees him doing a headstand in a barrel of water followed by downing half a bottle of vodka and a raw egg, the egg shell of which gets thrown into the audience. Mackenzie Crook offers fine support as the boy who’s still stuck in adolescence and never fully moved on from Rooster’s parties.
The 3 hours and 15 minutes is extremely enjoyable, funny, thought provoking and sad. Indeed, when Rooster gets brutally beat up in his caravan at the end and crawls back into view covered in blood and then falling out onto the ground because of his broken ankle and then dowsing his scalded back in vodka, I saw a girl in the box opposite me crying her eyes out. Not long after, he kicks turf out of the ground (again covering the front row) and starts beating a drum before looking up and screaming out front. This is truly an epic piece of theatre which I cannot begin to fully describe but it is certainly one which raises many questions about England. I think one of the reasons why it was so popular was down to there being a great hunger in society to see something quite like this. As Rylance said in an interview on Newsnight, ‘change is coming’.
With a fantastic central performance, a fantastic company of actors, live chickens on stage, and real trees that I could see went high up into the rafters of the fly tower, this is definitely live theatre at its best.
One of the benefits of sitting in a box is that you have a great view of the stage and the audience. As the curtain rose for the curtain call, the whole audience (certainly the stalls) simultaneously stood up with near-rapturous applause and appraisal. Again, a theatrical highlight. Wonderful!
Jerusalem’s second West End run started on 8th October 2011 for a limited 14 week run.