Imagine Withnail & I meets The Archers, at Glastonbury and you’ll be on your way to entering the bizarre world of Jerusalem. Jez Butterworth’s latest play is a cross-generational rampage through sex, drugs and morris dancing. Even though the script is indulgent and the supporting actors weak, the single performance by Mark Rylance as ‘the Rooster’ more than makes up for it.
Bursting onto a refreshingly un-minimalist set, the drunk Rylance dunks his entire head in a trough of water and shakes it all over the crowd. Butterworth continues with these attention-grabbing surprises throughout as Mackenzie Crook (Gareth of The Office) climbs out of a disused sofa and two girls emerge from under Rylance’s trailer. To be honest, it would have been better for everyone if they hadn’t.
Crook, whose career seems to be on fast-forward, may soon find himself speeding off into obscurity. Playing his standard role as the loveable village idiot he lacked the nervous energy he had in The Office and was just a strange-looking man saying not very interesting things. The young fillies who flock to the Rooster’s trailer for its wild parties were also disappointing. Their exciting tales of the night before killed by flat Harry Potteresque deliveries.
Thankfully, the story telling of Rylance was second to none. On relaying the conversation he had with a giant, he places a lighter on the floor, speaking down to represent the height difference. Rylance revelled in the complexities of this character, presenting them with grace and without apology.
The fantasy worlds painted by the gypsie are often shattered by the small-mindedness of the villagers, ‘I leave Wiltshire my ears pop’, says one fearful resident. This community so scared of a culture they don’t understand, yet willing to exploit it’s generosity liberal attitudes.
Exploring this, Butterworth confronts the audience with a disturbing and detailed scene of cocaine use. Half felt immediately uncomfortable, contorting every facial muscle to give an impression of what they hoped was a suitable mixture of curiosity and condemnation. While the other half had to stop themselves getting up, running over and snorting the whole lot. The play is a grotesque three hours and ten minutes long. By the second interval people could be heard scrapping entire scenes that should have been edited out. But no-one will remember this as the ending hits out with such unforeseen force that the audience are left shaken, shocked and, most importantly, thinking.
Jerusalem is set to transfer to the West End in Jan 2010.