Jerusalem

by Jez Butterworth; dir Gordon Vallins
Loft Theatre, Leamington Spa
29 February – 10 March 2012

Jerusalem is a modern and topical play full of energy and strong language. At its centre is a tale of a man struggling to be his independent self in the face of ‘progress’ and bureaucracy. That man is Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron who lives a traveller-type life in an old caravan in Rooster’s Wood. He has attracted a group of young people from the nearby town, who visit him for parties, drugs and as somewhere to hang out, although their actual loyalty is shaky. He also has the enmity of the local council who plan to evict him and cut down the wood to build a new housing estate.

The set is great, showing Johnny’s encampment overshadowed by a very realistic caravan and surrounded by rubbish with paths leading off into the woods; every bit of space has been used well. Then we meet Johnny himself, an incredibly good performance by David Pinner who manages to combine a whole host of very uncivilised traits with a powerful charisma. David dominates the show throughout as he stomps about with his limp and a swagger that sees him submit to no-one and tell some very tall stories; even his tale of meeting and befriending giants is not quite dismissed by his hangers-on.

The story progresses from the serving of the final eviction notice, through a recollection of the previous night’s wild party as various characters emerge from around the set where they have slept it off and visits from various people (the landlord of the last local pub to bar Johnny; his wife and small child who he had promised to take to the fair; an irate local thug looking for his daughter) until the final moments before the police and bulldozers arrive to evict him à la Dale Farm. This final scene itself is a very powerful one, as Johnny, bloodied, beaten and branded from another encounter with the thug, beats on a drum given him by his giant friend and chants a summoning of giants from legend to aid him in his hour of need.

The rest of the cast are all pretty strong too. Even young Oscar Webster as Johnny’s son, Marky, performs well. To mention some in particular is by no means a poor reflection on the rest of the large cast, but I particularly liked Roy Donoghue as the very scary thug; Jeremy Heynes as the scatty but deep Professor, the only old member of Johnny’s group; Katharine Bayley as Marky’s mother; and Joel Cooper as Lee Piper.

Sadly, there are two things that just keep this show from getting five stars. One is the tendency for too much to be delivered straight out to the audience rather than to the other characters on stage, and the other is that the two acts after the interval last much too long. All around me the audience were rustling and fidgeting as limbs and bottoms grew stiff and sore; even though the story was great, some cutting was in order to make it presentable in this format.

Nevertheless a brilliant show.

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