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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Jerusalem, Apollo Theatre

Jerusalem (the anthem) immediately denotes patriotism, in fact I sang it for the English Rugby team in the middle of the pitch at Twickenham once upon a time and with my national hat and scarf on, I certainly felt like a mascot for my country. Jerusalem (the play) deals with associated themes.

Jez Butterworth’s unique drama is “a comic, contemporary vision of rural life in our green and pleasant land”. The play comments on modern day mores and antics while lamenting the loss of freedom and corruption of country life. It is the eve of the annual Flintock fair, and the new May Queen is to be crowned. Johnny “Rooster” Byron, local daredevil and leader of the wandering rebels, is protecting his home and existence which are both under threat from the local townspeople who are petitioning to evict him. He is unperturbed and continues on with his rowdy drunken parties and drug fuelled gatherings.

Mark Rylance, tour de force extraordinaire, makes this play what it is and I just cannot envisage it having the same success without him. In fact as I attended a Saturday matinee, I was terrified I'd only see an understudy as is often the case in the earlier weekend performances. But Rylance was there, in his full glory, and just as magical as I had heard he was. He must now be used to daily standing ovations. Playing this unlikely hero, Rylance seems to embody the character in such a seamless fashion that it is impossible to find where one man starts and the other continues, it is completely mesmerising to watch.

There are other outstanding cast members too, MacKenzie Crook excels as Rooster’s sidekick, wannabee DJ, Ginger. Dazed and out of it, he stalks about the stage provoking hilarity as if by mistake. Danny Kirrane is utterly convincing as the slightly plump abbatoir worker and Johnny Flynn is his usual aloof self, which fits for the part of Lee, the boy who is radically going to leave Wiltshire. I saw Flynn in a similar role in The Heretic (Royal Court) and the similarities are uncanny.

The design by Ultz is first rate, an atmospheric woodland grove, I could tell it had originated from the Royal Court as its slick naturalism is of the same genre. We are confronted with a silver mobile home, a sodden sofa and many, many cans of beer, bags of drugs and other detritus in a clearing in the Wiltshire countryside. The design is so vivid, the trees are windslept and appear real, mud coats the floor, and live hens, a tortoise and goldfish! appear on stage.

Back in the West End and better than ever, Jez Butterworth’s ‘Jerusalem’ is a must-see. Book tickets here.

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