Presented by Univeristy of Adelaide Theatre Guild
Reviewed 3 August 2019
A powerhouse, irreverent marathon of tragic comedy, Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem embodies England as it is and England as it once might have been – that is, at least, according to an idealised mythological version of its past. Infused with references to William Blake’s Jerusalem from “Milton”, the spectres of Blake’s implied divine visit by Christ, and England’s brief, heavenly heritage, are here juxtaposed with the “dark Satanic mills” of industrialisation, modern renunciation of mythology for rationality, and the triumph of ‘rule of law’ over ‘rule of man’.
Deep in the forests of England’s vivid ‘green and pleasant land’, we encounter a man who appears caught between the two: the lyrical-yet-foul-mouthed Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron. A ‘gypo’ who lives in a caravan, Rooster tends to rave with his merry band of misfits by night, and regale his public with tales of his alleged immaculate conception by bullet and encounters with stone-henge-building giants by day. Extraordinarily portrayed by Brant Eustice, Rooster is a man who battles valiantly against the intrusion of modern law and values (with its new estates and rigidly disciplinary district councils) but who is nonetheless hopelessly entangled in the clichés and crises of modernity – from drug dealing, to child custody disputes, to gang violence. There is a mythical quality to his approach to life which reveals his decided refusal of reality. Reality, in tragically predicable fashion, nonetheless intrudes, such that the veneer of Rooster’s escapist joy is shattered by the disrespect and cowardice of his rough gang, revelations of the impact of his lifestyle on his estranged son, and, centrally, his looming eviction from the ‘new estate’ over which he has, for so long, reigned. As the crew prepares to face the estate’s bulldozers and law enforcement, the play’s juxtaposition of England’s charming quaintness with the rough impudence of those legendary misfits left behind by society is perfectly embodied by the senile holy idiot ‘Professor’ (Adrian Barnes), who stumbles in a drugged-up-haze onto the set clutching three garden gnomes to which have been sellotaped placards that together exclaim ‘F*CK OFF C*NTS’.
Over around three hours of intense allegory, folk-singing and rough-housing, we are treated to enchantingly wild yet wise reflections on the state of England today. For Australian audiences unfamiliar with the traditions and histories explored (the play is set, for example, during the patriotic St. George’s day, which celebrates the patron saint of England’s slaying of a dragon) the production is nonetheless guaranteed to captivate for its humour, fantastically dynamic cast (Robert Bell, Adrian Barnes, Eloise Quinn-Valentine, Georgia Stockham, Allison Scharber, Harper Robb, Jonathan Pole, Ashley Penny, Peter Davies, Benjamin Quirk, Alan Fitzpatrick, Oliver Reschke, Curtis Shipley) and lyrical intensity. Tony Clancy’s set is brilliant, and surprisingly charming, given that it depicts a dirty caravan lot littered with empty liquor bottles. Phaedra’s (Eloise Quinn-Valentine) performance is beautiful and truly angelic, singing Jerusalem and Michael Hurley’s Werewolf to haunting effect. Ginger (Robert Bell) the pathetic but loveable aspiring DJ is masterfully handled and, while comic, laced with echoes of tragedy.
Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron’s world is one caught on the boundary line between belonging and exile, nobility and debasement – and ultimately, his life embodies the battle between diverging English trends of mythical spirituality and cruel realism. Director Nick Fagan has masterfully brought to life his ‘all-time favourite play’, complimented by an absolutely knock-out performance by Brant Eustice in the central role. Bravo.
Reviewed by Ana Obradovic
Theatre, The Cloisters (Off Victoria Drive), Univeristy of Adelaide
Season: 3 Aug 2019 to 17 Aug 2019
Duration: Approx. 180min with interval
Tickets: $22 full price $18 conc
Bookings: Online www.trybooking.com/ZMCO, or tickets available at the door
Disclaimer: Adrian Barnes is a reviewer for Glam Adelaide