Monday, 17 August 2009

'Jerusalem' at the Royal Court Theatre

Last week I had the good fortune and great pleasure of going to see Jez Butterworth’s new play Jerusalem at the Royal Court Theatre. Although two members of our party could not make it on the night due to chicken pox and work commitments respectively we all still had a great time out in force to support family friend Danny Kirrane.

Before the mammoth play of three hours and ten minutes even begun we all convened for a tipple in the theatre bar and were idly minding our own business when my sister spotted what looked like David Schwimmer (dressed incognito in dark hat and clothes) at the bar. After closer inspection it was indeed the David Schwimmer who seemed to be having great difficulty getting served at the bar. You’d think the staff would have noticed and been falling over themselves to serve him- but not on this occasion.

Once we were over the initial shock of seeing someone we’d all grown up watching for many many years on Friends in person we continued chatting excitedly about the play. Keeping a beady eye on David at all times we noticed that after about ten minutes at the bar (no joke) he casually walked over to join a huddled Derren Brown and Michael Sheen. What amazed us was how the three of them fitted in so well with the crowd, and looked completely at ease with no one daring to go and bother them.

Happy with our celebrity spotting the curtain call came and as we all turned to walk through to the auditorium a rather handsome and angular faced man walked right in front of me. Whilst I recognised him he looked just like an average guy and it was only when a simply stunning Keira Knightley also walked past me that I realised it was Rupert Friend accompanying her. Beside ourselves with the celebrity presence we took our seats and were slightly unnerved when Keira and Rupert took their seats a few people away from us in our row, with Derren Brown and Michael Sheen sitting directly behind them.

So excited waiting for the actors to take to the stage myself and my sister started being silly and were threatening the rest of our party saying that we would wave manically when Danny took to the stage. Whilst we thought it would have been hilarious for us, would have probably put Danny off somewhat so the responsible teachers in our group dissuaded us.
When the curtain rose and the set was revealed it looked amazing and like no other set I’d seen before. It consisted of an area of clearing in woodland complete with real trees (which meant real flies), where a waster named Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron lived alone in his caravan. Set in Wiltshire on St. George’s Day the play opens at sunrise with two local council officials looking for Mr Byron in order to serve him an eviction notice. Referred to as a modern day Pied Piper ‘Rooster’ is accused of supplying drugs to minors, which is something that he never refutes when mentioned on several occasions throughout the play. From the scene of wrecked furniture and beer cans we can see its the morning after one of ‘Rooster’s’ impromptu ‘parties’ where he entertains friends among them teenagers, who all get completely trollyed on vodka, cannabis and what looked to be stimulants, which they referred to as ‘whizz’.

Whilst I am totally biased, Danny Kirrane played a superb performance as the Xenophobe Davey, whom we meet about 10 minutes in when he joins Ginger and ‘Rooster’ on stage to rub Ginger’s face in it about what a great party he’d missed the night before. I felt that Danny and Mackenzie brought great banter to their characters and they had an obvious chemistry. Whilst he didn’t have one of the dialogue rich parts he had several great one liners throughout the play and made the audience giggle several times. One of my favourite lines came when Danny was talking about the BBC and how they shouldn’t bother broadcasting from Wales when he remarked; “I leave Wiltshire, my ears pop!". An aspect to Danny’s role that I really enjoyed seeing from him, yet found simultaneously alarming was his all too convincing portrayal of an abattoir worker.

In the final chapter of the play the group head back after a visit to the county fair where Danny looks brilliant in his ensemble of cut off combat shorts, heart shaped glasses and lion face paint! They interrupt when Rylance is being paid a visit from his ex with his six year old son in tow. It is clear from their exchanges that they do not see eachother regularly so ‘Rooster’ tries to offer his son some words of advice.
"School is a lie. Prison's a waste of time. Girls are wondrous. Grab your fill... Don't listen to no one and nothing but what your own heart bids. Lie. Cheat. Steal. Fight to the death. Don't give up. Show me your teeth."

Mark Rylance was truly phenomenal in this demanding role as ‘Rooster’ and really held the play together being present in almost all of the scenes. As the most experienced actor in the cast Rylance has had a distinguished film and theatre career both in the West and on Broadway and was former artistic director at the Globe for 10 years. Rylance’s performance was truly superb as he was so passionate and a pleasure to watch. He showed great commitment to character throughout which saw him drinking a hangover cure in the first chapter, which consisted of two eggs to two parts vodka among other ingredients. In many scenes ‘Rooster’ was joined by his sidekick Ginger, played brilliantly by Mackenzie Crook. Throughout the play he was consistent and delivered some very funny lines. He was the perfect supporting role to Rylance’s ‘Rooster’ and made himself one of the standout performers.
Mark Rylance and Mackenzie CrookAll in all a really great way to spend three odd hours and I would give it my highest recommendation. Look out by a surprise appearance from Barry Sloane who played Niall in Hollyoaks thrown in to the mix as a local baddy who has in it for ‘Rooster’.
Jez Butterworth's previous plays for the Royal Court include The Winterling,The Night Heron and Mojo.
Jerusalem is showing at the Royal Court until 22nd August, and I’ve heard a cheeky rumour that due to overwhelming demand Jerusalem will have a West End run in January 2010.
Imagery courtesy of the Royal Court Theatre and Google.

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