Shock and awe as Harlow Theatre Company stage spellbinding production of Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem
By Chris Moss (Harlow Star)
THERE are few plays that provoke the sheer range of emotions stirred by Jez Butterworth’s provocative paean to a lost England - and even fewer drama groups able to tease out the nuances of the playwright’s spellbinding script.
But in a performance so powerful it would give even Mark Rylance and the cast of Jerusalem’s celebrated West End production a run for their money, Harlow Theatre Company managed to do just that under the skilled direction of Jane Miles - and then some.
Their mesmerising take on this modern-day classic was near-faultless, anchored by a truly astonishing turn by HTC stalwart Paul Johnson as wild man of the woods Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron.
Just as Rylance mesmerised the West End with his preening, bristling anti-hero, Johnson (pictured) put in the performance of his life to make the role his own, swaggering about his woodland kingdom - a gloriously ramshackle set designed by Brett Stevens - like a defiant, dispossessed monarch unwilling to face the reality of his inevitable downfall.
But - like the ancient ley lines running through his mystical wood - there was also an underlying fragility that for all his chest-beating machoism nevertheless creeps to the surface, touchingly realised in the awkward relationship with his estranged son (a wide-eyed turn from Elliott Johnson) and shy exchanges with the teenage May Queen (the ever-impressive Anghared Bowen) he shelters from her abusive father.
But this was no one-man show, and perhaps the key to its triumph was in giving Rooster’s army of lost souls equal chance to shine.
Among their ranks, Petrova Simpson and Alyssa Upton were brilliant as hellraising pals Pea and Tanya, while Mitch Rous was pitch-perfect as cider-swilling dreamer Lee.
Mike Hughes excelled as treacherous, close-minded abbatoir worker Davey, while Alan Jones delighted as a perpetually high, psycho-babbling professor.
But special praise must go to Jim Thompson for his imperious turn as Ginger, an eternal hanger-on desperate to prove himself Rooster’s natural successor, and Kyle Jaggers for an unforgettable performance as emotionally volatile, Morriss-dancing publican Wesley. Both are old and wise enough to see through Rooster’s tall tales, but both remain powerless to resist his force-of-nature magnetism.
Brutal, brilliant and beguiling, this was HTC at their very best.
(To see photos of this show, follow this link)