Jerusalem. Written by Jez Butterworth. Directed by Jane Miles - April 2013
Jerusalem raises questions about how contemporary society treats its outcasts.
‘Friends! Outcasts. Leeches. Undesirables. A blessing on you, and upon this beggars’ banquet. This day we draw a line in the chalk and push back hard against the bastard pitiless busybody council and drive them from this place for ever.’
Johnny Rooster Byron has lived in his caravan that has stood on the land known as Rooster’s Wood for 25 years. The young and old have been drawn there for many years as Rooster allows them to be recklessly wild and perfectly safe at the same time. Johnny Byron is a ‘character that encapsulates both the scapegoat and the monster, and on which thus the dreams and the fears of the community equally settle’. (Julia Boll).
On St George’s day the nation traditionally commemorates the legend of the knight slaying the dragon in its lair. It is 23rd April the day of the Flintock Fair and the day Kennet and Avon Council have summoned a notice for Johnny Byron to be evicted.
Jerusalem raises questions about the change of the cultural landscape.
‘The meaning of England is different for everyone who lives in it. Its physical reality – its actual and emotional landscape-resonates at different frequencies for all of us. But whatever tone we hear, it is increasingly drowned out by the louder but flatter sound of landscapes being levelled, colour being drained and character being driven out by money and self –interest and over development.’
(Real England –Paul Kingsnorth).
‘Who gets the contract? Who gets the kickbacks? Kids come here. Half of them are safer here than they are at home. What the f*** do you think an English forest is for?’
Jerusalem raises questions about out Englishness and our mystical heritage.
Underpinning Jerusalem is a backdrop of English magic and folklore. A green and pleasant land where the smell of wild garlic mingles with may blossom, where locals live close by to wildlife and the fairies in the forest. ‘Ley lines is lines of ancient energy, stretching across the landscape….This is holy land.’
‘Magic begins in darkness-the darkness of the earth, the sky and the body-and an awareness of it is born with light. Seeing green shoots appearing out of the dark soil, the sun, the moon and the stars rising and setting in the sky, babies emerging from the womb, fire leaping up in the midst of a cold night, were all primal experiences that awakened that sense of awe and wonder that lies at the heart of the magical experience.’
(The Book of English Magic – Philip Carr-Gomm and Richard Heygate).
‘Have you ever seen one? ...a real fairy? Or an elf…?
Jerusalem made us the company question ourselves.
‘We can’t sing our own folk songs or, increasingly, cook our own national foods. We don’t know what grows in our local area. We sneer at morris dancers while we sip skinny lattes. We are cut off from who we are and where we have come from.’
(Real England-Paul Kingsnorth).
Review: Harlow Star 2nd May 2013
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.
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