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Jerusalem is a comedy play by Jez Butterworth, set in Wiltshire, England on St. George’s Day. The lead character is Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron who is a wanted man and referred to as a modern day Pied Piper. Everyone wants something from him; his mates want to get their hands on his ample supply of alcohol and drugs, his son wants him to take him to the local community fair, Troy Whitworth wants to beat him up and the council officials are looking to give him an eviction notice. So how will ‘Rooster’ handle it all?!
Jerusalem was first seen at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2009 before transferring to the Apollo for a limited run of 12 weeks. It then went on to play on Broadway winning a Tony Award for Mark Rylance for Best Actor. The play now returns to the Apollo, opening on 17th October 2011 and with previews from the 8th October. It closes on 14th January 2012.
Olivier and Tony Award winning actor Mark Rylance will be continuing his role as Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron. Rylance is a playwright as well as an actor, and was the first artistic of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for ten years from 1995. Mackenzie Crook will also be reprising his role as Ginger in the play. Crook is best known for playing Gareth Keenan in hit comedy series The Office. Most of the orginal Royal Court cast will also reprise their roles in Jerusalem.
Show Length and Times
Performances of Jerusalem last approximately 3 hours and 10 minutes, including an interval. Evening performances start at 7.30pm every night from Monday to Saturday, and matinees begin at 1.30pm every Saturday, with extra matinees on 26th October, 2nd and 9th of November, 7th, 21st and 28th of December and 4th and 11th of January, all at 1.30pm. There are no performances on Sundays.
“Butterworth and Rylance have created one of the great mischievous monsters of modern theatre, a Lord of Misrule on the same scale as Falstaff or Jeffrey Bernard, a Pied Piper of protest and disaffection.”
Michael Coveney at the Independent
“Barely off stage for more than three hours, Rylance transfixes the audience with his glittering eyes, challenging us to disbelieve his stories, and extracting every ounce of humour from Butterworth’s script.”
Charles Spencer at the Telegraph
“Mackenzie Crook, Tom Brooke and Danny Kirrane are all impressive in supporting roles, but the triumph belongs to Rylance for perfectly embodying Butterworth’s vision of a vanished demonic magic.”
Michael Billington at the Guardian
For anyone coming to this play for the first time, the hype surrounding it, and more specifically the Tony and Olivier Award winning performance of Mark Rylance in the lead role of Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron, certainly precedes it. A string of awards, multiple extensions and a successful stint on Broadway have all ensured that this 2009 state of the nation play by Jez Butterworth has become a modern classic. It is a rare sight these days to see a large West End venue completely full on a weekday evening, especially for a production that doesn’t star a celebrity from the X-Factor or involve Andrew Lloyd Webber. It is even rarer to see an audience spontaneously dragged to their feet to applaud what has to be one of the most memorable performances not of the year, but of the decade.
So far into the run the majority of the work has already been done. Audiences are no longer coming to see the play for a night out or to catch the latest trend. Audiences are now fighting for tickets, lining up at 5am each morning to see what critics globally have told us has to be seen. From Rylance’s first entrance onto the wonderfully detailed stage which included a realistic wood surrounding a full sized metal caravan, it was clear that the audience were behind him. The acclaim has already been won, and this new stint at the Apollo Theatre now feels like a victory lap.
The play does take a while to get going, and at the first interval a number of confused faces are wondering what exactly all the hype is about, frantically trying to work out if they have missed something and like the Emperor’s New Clothes, not wanting to appear foolish. Butterworth uses a long exposition scene to allow Rylance’s character to unfold slowly, rather than intimidating the audience and advancing the plot which happens over the course of one day. As Rooster faces eviction, his life is laid bare and not even the mother of his child or 6 year old son can show him what a mess he has become. He becomes a prophetic character to a band of hopeless teenagers who use him for his drugs and alcohol. A notorious character with a shady past, Rooster has become an outcast from society yet still manages to be at the centre of his own little world. The use of generations is expertly used through the character of Troy who has grown out of this atmosphere and come to see his step-daughter drawn like a moth to the flame, adding much needed breadth to the drama.
Of the other characters onstage very few of them are either likeable or interesting but it rarely matters. They serve their purpose within both the narrative and the atmosphere, becoming faces representing Rooster’s world before it comes crashing down. Sterling performances from all involved always feel genuine, and Ian Rickson’s direction is never anything but natural and subtle, even during the play’s wildest moments.
This ‘state of the nation’ play certainly resonates well with an audience who have seen similar events recently in the eviction of Dale Farm. The play not only questions the state of ‘England’s green and pleasant land’, but raises questions about those who have lost faith with modern society, retiring to the symbolically pastoral setting in a similar way to Rosalind or Autolycus. In this modern epic Butterworth creates a modern Shakespearean stock character, who is the ring leader to many and yet abandoned from any form of humanist feeling. The most touching scenes involve his family, as he is held up as a symbol of failure in his son’s eyes. The final act brings the raw emotion to the surface, although the bravado is maintained until the last moments.
The play has earned its place amongst other contemporary classics, although it will always be remembered for the performance as much as the text. It will be a brave man who takes on this role again in the future.
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Have you been to see Mark Rylance’s stunning performance in Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre in London? Did the show live up to your expectations or do you think the reviews praised the show too much? Add your review in the comments box below to help fellow theatregoers decide whether to see Jerusalem!