Posted on: 28 July 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews Jez Butterworth’s comedy drama Jerusalem.

No more ironic title could be given to a play than Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem (Royal Court Theatre), directed by Ian Rickson, for this state of the nation comedy drama depicts Britain as far from a green and pleasant land!

On St. George’s Day, the morning of the local country fair, Johnny Byron, local waster, former daredevil and modern day Pied Piper is a wanted man.  The council officials want to serve him an eviction notice from his ramshackle mobile home camped on the edge of town, his children want their dad to take them to the fair, Troy Whitworth wants to give him a serious kicking and a motley crew of mates wants his ample supply of drugs and alcohol.

This overlong, at times unfocused, but nevertheless absorbing lament for the death of individualism in an era of general conformity seamlessly moves from comedy to drama and back again, where joy and laughter is supplanted by bitterness and violence.

One of the most impressive aspects of the play is the vividly atmospheric set which takes us right into the heart of Byron’s eccentric world – a 40ft mobile home at the back of a clearing in a wood, the old Wessex flag (a golden Wyvern dragon against a red background) flies from one end, an old rusted metal railway sign reads ‘Waterloo’, and completing the picture an old mouldy couch, lots of junk and an old hand cranked air-raid siren.

But it is the marvellous central performance by Mark Rylance as Byron, a rebel without a cause, a charming scoundrel who attracts friends and enemies in equal measure, a man who only wants to live life his own way and emerges more and more as a sort of modern day Falstaff that brings this unusual play to such blazing life.

He receives strong support from a fine cast including Mackenzie Crook, Greg Burridge and Sarah Moyle.

In the third and best act the play builds to a powerful conclusion and we emerge from the theatre shaken, stirred and amused but unlikely to forget the flawed but fascinating character of Byron.

By Laurence Green

Where: Royal Court Theatre

When: Plays until 15th August.

Box Office:  020 7565 5063.

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