By Paul Callan
17 July 2009
Despite the laughter that rocked the old Royal Court, playwright Jez Butterworth is making a deeply serious point. It concerns the destruction of our Green And Pleasant Land (hence Jerusalem) by avaricious developers with their identical housing estates, the Tesco-isation of what were once fields and the slow erosion of country life.
Defying this changing world in his battered American Airstream caravan is Johnny “Rooster” Byron – an anarchic gypsy outsider, drug dealer, teller of outrageous tales (he claims to have met a 45ft giant) and lover of many women.
But after years of middle-fingered defiance, authority is closing in on his woodland corner of England (in this case Wiltshire). They come in the form of by-law spouting officials from the council – Sarah Moyle’s vicious Ms Fawcett is chillingly spot on – intent on evicting him.
Mark Rylance, a real-life eccentric, relishes the role of Rooster and the character takes on hilarious proportions when he is visited by a rabble of locals.
These include a couple of slapper girls, a pitiful would-be DJ called Ginger (Mackenzie Crook is touchingly sad as this gangling failure), a dippy professor, a mindless abattoir worker (“I stand there and I slay 200 cows. Wham.”) and confused Lee (Tom Brooke makes the gormless gaze a fine art). It is the village’s St George’s Day fete and they all swirl around Rooster in a haze of booze and spliffs, entranced by his outrageous stories. Mark Rylance brings a range of emotions to the part from his cocky tale-telling to despair at the inevitability of his eviction.
This play is not for the feeble-hearted. It contains Rooster’s harrowing beating-up and branding by an angry fathers hired thugs and the dialogue is liberally laced with profanity. But the humour shines brightly through – and with it Rylance’s fine comic timing.
Gerard Horan is memorable as publican Wesley (embarrassingly dressed as a Morris dancer for a brewery promotion). Three hours might seem long for a play but the action never flags, flipping between comedy and tragedy, pathos and tenderness and keeping us guessing till the very last moments.Back to reviews