Review – Jerusalem

April 11, 2013 | By | 3 Replies More

★★★★★  Brave and timely

Adam House Theatre: Wed 10 – Sat 13 April
Review by Thom Dibdin

There’s a rich, dense texture to the Grads Scottish premiere of Jerusalem, at the Adam House Theatre until Saturday. It has a mythic feel inspired by Blake’s hymn Jerusalem, the text of which frames the piece as if it were being stalked by Gog and Magog.

The Grads had already taken on a huge task by giving the first production on Scottish soil of Jez Butterworth’s brilliant, heartfelt cry for the real soul of England to stand up and be counted in the face of greed and oppression.

Alan Paterson as Johnny 'Rooster' Byron. Photo www.prettybright.co.uk

Alan Paterson as Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron. Photo www.prettybright.co.uk

To find themselves doing so in the week that Thatcher died both adds to the burden and makes the task easier. The play has suddenly become all the more focussed, as grief for the death of a person threatens to swamp any criticism of the  ideology of greed and oppression which bears that person’s name.

The circumstances also give the play an added dimension. It was always going to be difficult to find a resonance with what is such an English play. But seen here, now, its locality is not England, but Wessex, it is a play which speaks with a local voice, not a national one – and, as such, it can speak for us.

Make no bones, Jerusalem is a big – sometimes sprawling – script. One that uses hugely difficult metaphors to make its point. In so doing it entertains and swaggers, takes drugs, drinks to excess, swears copiously,  celebrates cuckoldry and condones underage sex.

But under Ross Hope’s splendidly naturalistic direction it is the entertaining and the swaggering which makes all the running. There is the occasional slightly sketchy interlude – playing stoned or tripped-out convincingly is even harder than playing drunk – but never anything which really jars.

The biggest swagger of all comes from Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron. A fable in his own lifetime, he lives on the edge of the overgrown village of Flintock, in a ramshackle caravan in a glade in Rooster Wood where the Flintock youngsters come to drink, mope, smoke dope and listen to loud, loud beats. Just as they have been doing for generations.

The sordid details of delinquent teenagers

Alan Paterson finds that swagger with an assured sneer – arriving on stage with the belch of morning-after fatigue and parading this mercurial, feral man in all his scuzzy, reprehensible, loveable masculinity. He moves from audacious storyteller to snivelling liar and back with a beat of the script – and commands the stage with a presence that has a more than a hint of the magical about it.

It is a great performance of one of the great roles of contemporary British theatre. It’s big enough to keep the heart of the play pumping, while it is deep enough to make it fly above the sordid details of delinquent teenagers to find a resonance in the myths and legends which stretch from Tintagel to Rosslyn and beyond.

Sophie Pasola as Tanya. Photo www.prettybright.co.uk

Sophie Pasola as Tanya. Photo www.prettybright.co.uk

This is, however, the Salisbury plain. Wiltshire, where the ley-lines run to Stonehenge and Glastonbury. And on this St George’s Day, the day of the annual Flintock fair, Rooster is about to get evicted from his wood.

If it is in the details and the description of the crazy, drunken, misappropriation of ancient ritual of the Flintock fair that much of the humour of the play and production lie, it is up to the rest of the 14-strong cast to give those details some reality.

And so they do with hardly a missed opportunity. Gordon Craig as Ginger, Rooster’s old, never went-away mate who seems to have dropped off the invite list and doesn’t get texted when the party starts any more. Craig has just the right amount of weasel to him, but can stand up to his mate.

Brian Thomson plays the completely incongruous Professor with smooth assurance. A doddery old man, clearly on the edge of dementia and stuck in 1987, who Rooster treats with gentle humanity – and for whom the younger pack (Ginger apart) find an easy respect.

And Ross Hope deploys that younger pack with casual ease. Sam Gray as Lee – leaving for Australia the next day; Jonathan McGarrity as accordion-wielding Davey whose day job is killing cows in the local abattoir, Sophie Pasola as the ever-smiling Tanya who wants into Lee’s pants at any opportunity, and Anna Wareing as the cynical young Pea.

Not everyone is a fan of the Rooster, though. Once grown up, the villagers stop coming. Mark Anderson gives their presence a vicious edge as Troy Whitworth, whose stepdaughter Phaedra has gone missing and who blames Rooster for her disappearance – not to mention more nefarious, un-stated accusations.

But there is an uneasy alliance with the village, too. Epitomised in Laurence Wareing’s off kilter Wesley, the morris-dancing local publican who bans Rooster by night and visits him by day – to buy speed to keep him dancing.

Buy the script:

And while there is an etherial element to the whole, brought by Sarah-Jane Cooke’s angel-like Phaedra who wafts around quoting Blake, Rooster is certainly grounded in reality. Of that, there can be no doubt, thanks to Caroline Hood’s strong performance as Dawn, the swithering, estranged mother of his son, Marky (Alex Lennie).

As the story of this St George’s day unfolds – with Claire Wood all repressed sexuality as uptight council official Fawcett out to get Rooster evicted and Kenneth Brangman her not-quite-getting-it sidekick Parsons – the production draws you right into its own, convoluted belief system.

And leaves you, like Dawn, swithering between adulation of a heroic knight, ready to save the world, and revulsion at a jaded, fillandering no-hoper who even his friends would piss on for a laugh.

This is not quite perfect, but it is one of the best and bravest productions I have seen staged by an amateur company in Edinburgh. Go see for yourself.

Running time 3 hours.
Run ends Saturday.
Adam House Theatre, Chambers St
Wednesday 10-Saturday 13 April 2013.
Daily, 7.30pm.
Full details on Grads website: www.egtg.co.uk

ENDS

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Comments (3)

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  1. Susan Wales says:

    Once again your review is balanced and considered. Thank You.

    I couldn’t agree more – this production had me totally absorbed.

  2. thanks Thom
    your review is itself brave and timely – and your 5 stars rightly bestows great credit on Alan Patterson as “Rooster”, and Ross Hope as our director. The cast are all delighted by this.
    Brian Thomson (Professor)

  3. Jennifer Wood says:

    This was a clearly a huge undertaking for an amateur group. But it was delivered seamlessly and with full conviction. Everyone involved should feel very proud.

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