Jerusalem, the new play by Jez Butterworth which transferred into the West End this week from the Royal Court, is nothing less than a tour-de-force. A running time of 3 hours with two intervals, yet an evening of gripping comedy and drama, and with enough poignancy to ensure classic status.
Johnny “Rooster” Byron has squatted in the exquisite Wiltshire forest in a metallic caravan for many years. Once a “local hero” in the region, having been the star attraction at the St George's Day fair, the ex-‘Dare Devil' forced to quit when he hit the final bus. Health and safety officials banned the attraction of course, and we start to get a mood of a changing Britain.
Byron is now a drug-dealing maverick, defiant at news he is to be evicted from his site within 24 hours. But it's business as usual for the Rooster, the magnetic pied-piper to his local young crew – or rats as he fondly refers to them – trading whizz, spliff, stories and absurdity.
It's a truly charismatic performance from Mark Rylance. I say “performance” – in actual fact, he just is. It's one of those delicious roles that is written once in a blue moon – full of spirit, wit, heart, balls – and brought to life by one of the most inherent actors of our generation. Rylance gives a master class in getting it spot on, in every moment, with every choice.
The supporting cast is brilliant. The other big name, Mackenzie Crook (pictured right) of the Office fame, gives an assured performance as wannabe DJ Ginger, alongside Tom Brooke's hilarious dope-head Lee, who is set on a better life down under, brings to life his character with charm.
Jez Butterworth's play is compelling – full of jest, sentiment, passion and terrific speeches. You know in reality you'd be signing that petition to eradicate the Rooster and his clan if they were on your own doorstep, yet you can't help fall in love with him and his wacky antics.
Ian Rickson's production doesn't appear as though it's been directed. It runs from moment to moment with fluency. Britain really is going through a time of change, evolving with several smacks to the stomach. Seize this production before it's too late.
Runs at the Apollo Theatre until 24th April 2010.