Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Nor Shall My Sword.

To the Royal Court this evening to see Jez Butterworth's instant classic Jerusalem. It's a fantastic piece of writing, supported by confident direction and wonderful performances. In its complexity and layered exploration of English identity, the play is streaks ahead of anything else I've seen this year, providing the kind of night when you float out of the theatre head reeling and heart pumping. It's as broad as Salisbury Plain and the running time of over three hours only helps to reinforce the epic nature of this state of the nation hymn.

It's Saint George's day and the annual Flintock fair is in full scrumpy flow, waiting for the crowning of the newest, coming of age, May Queen. Meanwhile holed up, outside his derelict caravan, sits, Johnny 'Rooster' Byron - a dead dodgy, but lovable, rogue as English and anachronistic as Archie Rice; as large and lawless as Falstaff, The Green Man or the Great God Pan, himself.

For twenty years or more Johnny has been supplying drugs, alcohol, love and mythical stories of giants and dare devil feats to the minors of South Wiltshire, whilst waiting for Kennett and Avon council to serve him eviction orders. Mark Rylance's performance in the role is triumphant. Lithe, dangerous and full of charm, his fearless bravado all but manages to mask the fears of a man who can see simultaneously the beauty and betrayal of youth. He knows the hay making is over but goes down fighting nevertheless.

The symbols of an alternative Eden abound - a rural world that is at once glorious and feral -where council officials are ineffective and vigilante justice endemic. Here the children of England are subtly inducted into adulthood by the most local of heroes and Morris dancing, happy slapping, sweet garlic and speed compete for the attention of the annual merry makers.

It's marvellous to see a contemporary playwright, unafraid of creating an expansive plot, striding out his territory with humour, insight and threat. This is a mighty Blake-ian blunderbuss which attacks the bucolic at every turn.

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