The critics can’t get enough of it, its lead actor is bowing under the weight of awards for his role and it has now transferred to the Apollo Theatre – so what is it that’s so special about Jerusalem?
If you thought the worst the English countryside could throw at you was chaotic paganism, stereotypical bumpkins, Morris dancers (on speed), raving crusties and lashings of cider – then think again.
Jerusalem will add more than a few items to that list. Lawlessness, wanton abandon, bravado and downright eccentricity feature heavily in this modern day celebration of Britishness, rivalry, sexual jealousy, anarchy and sheer bloody-mindedness. And let’s not forget the endemic and outrageous debauchery set against the backdrop of a village steeped in tradition.
As the shabby St George’s flag raises up on the setting; among the trees is what appears to be an airstream caravan and an all night party going on. The tone is set for three hours of great drama.
Mysticism and mystery infiltrate this piece as we are walked through St George’s Day, May Day, references to Stone Henge, Giants and more.
Local daredevil and hero turned bad – Johnny Byron – has the local youths in thrall to his magical life full of gleeful hedonism, while his contemporary, Wesley (Gerard Horan) the pub landlord is shown up as a cynical hypocrite and brewery puppet. Byron parties on under the weight of an eviction notice which has been served on him. Time is running out and all around him chaos abounds like a merry May Dance. A young girl is missing and we begin to learn her story.
Mark Rylance (Byron), a modern day Heathcliff, is the chaotic, charismatic anti and demi Christ of the piece. We are left agog at his breakfast cocktail recipe; milk, drugs and vodka all poured into a jug and position said jug carefully in the nook between belt and belly, swing hips around like a cocktail shaker – and hey presto, swig with gusto.
The picture of natural beauty is shortly attended by the police with eviction notices. This flawed Wiltshire society is ungovernable by law and pokes fun at authority which is powerless and impotent in the face of these woodland creatures.
As with all character plays this is a mirror which reflects what is essentially the human condition with all the complication, caprice, malaise and melodrama that it brings. But this particular mirror is also used to chop out copious amounts of drugs. In what is essentially a celebration of decadence and the centuries old wastrel tradition, this rural sleepless hollow and all its mores get an airing on the sophisticated West End stage of London.
This story is all about oxymorons; the co-existence of truth and lies and how faith and disbelief are sides of the same coin. Like a great novel, this play stays with you and it’s something you want to talk about with other people. Everyone I know who has seen the play has their own version of what it is about and what happens in the end. I put it on a par with Shameless and the final episode of the Sopranos for contemporary brilliance, but Jerusalem is truly rooted in the bawdiness and pathos of Shakespeare.
The cast includes: Jessica Barden, Tom Brooke, Mackenzie Crook, Alan David, Aimee-Ffion Edwards, Gerard Horan, Danny Kirrane, Charlotte Mills, Lucy Montgomery, Sarah Moyle, Harvey Robinson, Mark Rylance and Barry Sloane.