Reviewed by Timna Abramov.
Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem follows Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron, a lifelong Wiltshire local, as he faces eviction by the local council on St George’s Day: the first day of the county fair. It is difficult summarise the plot properly, because for a large proportion of the play, nothing quite happens beyond the conversations between Rooster and the visitors that come by him. Having said that, there is no point where there is any space for the audience to be bored — on the contrary, the dialogue is so vivid and quick-witted that watching the play, even in the long stretches where the plot slowed down, was a pleasure. That is an impressive feat, considering the fact that Jerusalem is an absolutely huge work, with a running time of two hours and forty-five minutes.
A lot of the play’s merit rests on the depiction of Rooster, the central role. He is an unconventional Byronic hero — coarse, crude, yet somehow charming and difficult not to like, despite his status as a drug dealer to local children. Needless to say, this combination must have made for a challenging role, but actor Paddy Echlin rose to it (although his strange gait, whether a limp or a Jack Sparrow imitation, was sometimes a little grating). Not only was little of Rooster’s charm lost, but there was a good transition between the lighter aspects of the character and the more serious, which became apparent with the powerful conclusion of the play.
Some other notable performances include those by Rufus Love's Ginger, who often made the audience laugh, and Callum Pope's Professor, who, though comically opposite to most other characters on stage, delivered a fascinating monologue towards the end. In general, the acting in the play was decent — where there were areas of weakness, it was made up for by the dynamic nature of the characters and their relationships.
I also enjoyed the set design by Bryn Jones and Matthew Marsland. Although it was the script rather than the set which explained that the play took place in the woods, there was a sense of the outdoors, and there was an atmosphere perfectly fitting to the play. The set looked so much like where a man like Rooster would live — a battered sofa took centre stage, the broken television at the side, and an array of bottles of varying emptiness scattered throughout.
But cast and production team alike had the distinct advantage of an absolutely fantastic script. Funny, delightful and simultaneously thought-provoking, Jerusalem is a perceptive update of our views towards nature, Romanticism, and what it means to be English.
Jerusalem runs at Bedlam Theatre until Saturday 27th October 2018.