Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth

Yesterday was St George's Day so I thought I'd trot out this post from last year...
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It's not very fair to review a play on the basis of reading it rather than seeing it performed but this was my only option since Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem has only run on the West End and Broadway and I don't know if it'll make it to Australia anytime soon. I've been hearing a lot about Jerusalem for a while  now so last week I finally thought that I would read the text rather than not have any access to it at all. 
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The first thing to say is that it's a pretty funny piece and with actors doing these lines on stage I can only imagine that it would he hilarious. The story is quite straightforward. It's St. George's Day 2009. Johnny Byron is a "gyppo" who lives in the woods and gets by by dealing speed and marijuana to the surprising array of people in the local village who need a little help to get them through the day. He lives in a caravan that has been the subject of an eviction order by the local council and throughout the morning and afternoon (the day also of the local fair) many of Johnny's friends and relations come by to sponge off him, threaten him, hassle him and warn him that the council is serious this time. Johnny Byron is a self mythologising, Falstaffian antihero and his mate Ginger is a funny and worthwhile sidekick. The supporting characters are in the best traditions of Pinter and Beckett depending on which of the two you find more amusing (for me its Beckett). Jerusalem has an array of tones veering from the romantic and melancholy to the downright silly and although I'm not entirely sure it holds completely together, it mostly does. The beginning of the play was my favourite bit, reading like an extended Pete and Dud sketch complete with "I had that Cheryl Cole in me bed last night" which I imagine had the audience in stitches. It gets more serious towards the end bringing in elements as diverse as Walter Scott, Thomas Hardy and Roald Dahl.
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Jerusalem is a million miles from the traditional British "well made" play and that's a good thing. It is a bawdy, profane, profound work of art that celebrates a notion of Englishness that the English have generally been too diffident and embarrassed to talk about. If you can catch a performance of this somewhere you should go see it and failing that you can probably get the play from your local library and give it a read instead.