By Quentin Letts
17 July 2009
An awful lot of scrumpy must have gone into Jez Butterworth’s astonishing new play – an invigorating, yelping, defiant portrait of 21st century shires England.
Jerusalem is not about the green and pleasant land of lazyminded, armchair nationalists. It is flavoured instead by West Country madness and has, at its very core, a performance of rare virtuosity by Mark Rylance.
He plays a gipsy drug dealer, Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron, who has long inhabited a woodland somewhere in Wiltshire. Year after year he introduces the local youths to his heady stories and mind-altering substances.
Each year they grow up and move on. Byron, sitting outside his caravan, is a cross between the pied piper and Puff The Magic Dragon.
One St George’s Day, liaison officers from the local council arrive to serve Byron with eviction orders. This threat seems to send him only deeper into a haze of vodka and fantasy. There is strong language. Lots of it. But there is also inventive, angry, West Country language about freedom.
This often extremely funny show is a furious blast at the urban homogenisers who want us all to live in a concreted realm under streetlights and closed circuit cameras.
All those Islingtonians who go to Glastonbury every year should listen!
Byron preens, staggers, flirts and gulps a flip cocktail down in one. His eyes flash as he pushes himself further into myth. He joshes his young friends and leads them astray – probably for their own good, for they learn about life from this Robin Hood.
It is the day of the village fair. There is wild garlic on the breeze. Someone brings Byron a present of a goldfish in a plastic bag. What a symbol of constrained liberty that goldfish is! I was half expecting him to drink it.
With its morris dancing and its forecast of a Stonehenge building giant who might come to Byron’s rescue, in this play Butterworth catches the cadences and tiny details of West Country wild boys.
Mackenzie Crook is excellent as Byron’s sidekick Ginger and there is good support from a cast which includes Alan David, Tom Brooke and Gerard Horan. Fantastic, shocking and fresh.Back to reviews