(Benedict Nightingale's article appeared in The Times of London, July 16, 2009.)
Jerusalem at The Royal Court, SW1
In his recent Parlour Song, Jez Butterworth defined suburbia as a mix of the boring, the inane and the quietly desperate. Now he turns his attention to the countryside and isn’t more comforting. From the start, in which a fairy appears beneath a tacky English flag to recite Blake’s Jerusalem, you know that he’s worried about what the bureaucrats, the lookalike housing estates and, not least, the confused and alienated country people themselves are doing to our pleasant pastures and mountains green.
His Jerusalem is a bold, ebullient and often hilarious State-of-England or (almost) State-of-Olde-England play. At the stage’s centre is an American-style trailer, surrounded by discarded furniture and trees, and at the evening’s centre is its inhabitant. Mark Rylance’s Rooster Byron is an anarchic maverick, a Wiltshire lord of misrule, mythologised by his shambolic retinue of underage girls and male layabouts, among them Mackenzie Crook as a forlorn, gangling loser called Ginger. No, Rooster didn’t manage to jump Stonehenge on a motorbike, but he tells a tall story, fights a wild fight, and has stuck up two fingers at authority for aeons.