Think Port Meadow on May Morning, with a West Country accent, Jerusalem is a heady mix of pagan revelry, boredom-fuelled debauchery, alienated youth, and folklore.
Jez Butterworth’s modern marvel premiered in 2009 with Mark Rylance and Mackenzie Crook in the cast. Stunning reviews earned the production an extended run at the Royal Court, a Broadway transfer and a triumphant London homecoming at the Apollo. Winning a Tony and Olivier for Rylance’s Rooster along the way, these are big shoes to fill indeed.
Anything that opens with a medley of Dropkick Murphy’s, a hymn and The Prodigy is likely to get me on side from the start, the latter’s Warrior’s Dance being the perfect pick for a rural, ritualistic rave scene that kicks things off. The strobing and bass abate and the lights come up on a scene of total hedonistic carnage surrounding a metal caravan; it’s enough to give you a hangover. An eviction notice is pinned to the door, which opens to introduce Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron, a muscular, crippled, eloquently foul-mouthed wayfarer. His spot is the hangout of local wreckheads and the disaffected youth of each passing generation, who come seeking wisdom and whizz. It is St. George’s Day, the day of the local Flintock fair, the start of Summer, and the party starts at Byron’s.
In a Wildean sense John Byron is a man lying in the gutter while looking at the stars, a romantic enigma, but, one feels, at risk of choking on his own vomit. Barney Fishwick is excellent in the lead. He is menacing, sad and funny, and neither wholly likeable nor entirely hateful. The supporting cast of misfits and morris men are roundly accomplished, with particular mention for Will Hislop’s well-timed Ginger and Tom Pease's earnest Lee Piper who bring most of the heart and the laughs.
Real care has been taken in set, sound and performance which all pay off, but as nice as the scene-sandwiched musical bits were, their absence mightn’t have been missed when the runtime headed north of 200 minutes. But Butterworth’s distinctly English eccentricity is here enjoyably produced by Commensal Productions.