Reviews are quite possibly the most dangerous by-product of any performance – particularly the good ones. Jerusalem, which has swept Olivier and Tony awards for its lead, the inimitable Mark Rylance, is the perfect example of how five star reviews and years of sold out shows can turn what was once a small, naturalistic play at the Royal Court into an entity far greater than itself. The play is no longer simply that; it is a cultural phenomenon, an event, tales of which will span far longer than its run.
Jez Butterworth has written a play that feels deceptively simple at first glance, but delve beneath the drink, drugs and four letter expletives, and you find a script that is endowed with complex relationships. Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron is the Shrek of his Wiltshire village, residing in a beaten up camper van at the back of a forest, much to the dismay of the local residents. Well, except for the bunch of freeloading youngsters who frequent the site in the hopes of some free whizz and a good night. With just hours to pack up and leave after being issued a warrant by the local council, Rooster is going nowhere – fast.
Part of Rylance’s brilliance is his embodiment of the two very different sides to Byron’s personality. On the surface, he seems to be nothing more than a drug addled, ageing good-for-nothing; a burden to society and to himself. But when the truth finally hits that he is alone, that the people who he calls friends are the ones filming each other urinating on his passed out body, the raw emotion is palpable. When his young son comes to visit, party animal Rooster disappears, and in his place comes a cautious and tender father desperately seeking the love of his child.
It is a credit to Ultz’s excellent stage design, Butterworth’s intriguing script and of course, Rylance’s dynamism that viewers are captivated for over three hours by a man limping around the exterior of a caravan. Mackenzie Crook delivers a wonderful performance as Rooster’s friend, Ginger, and there are comical gags aplenty from Max Baker as Morris dancing publican Wesley and Alan David as the eccentric professor. But Rylance truly is the star of the show, and it would be impossible to imagine Jerusalem without him.