Home » London Theatre Reviews » Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth at Network Theatre | Review

Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth at Network Theatre | Review

Johnny “The Rooster” Byron will have his day, as old England fitters into the wind. The Network Theatre’s amateur production may not be the sledgehammer that was the Ian Rickson, and Mark Rylance collaboration but the bones of Jez Butterworth’s statement play come through.

Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth at Network Theatre
Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth at Network Theatre. Copyright Paul-H-Lunnon 2023.

It is the day of the Flintlock Fair, but Rooster faces eviction from his motor home in the self-anointed Rooster Wood. A gang of thoughtless youths seem to keep congregating around this clearing in the woods, doing every drug they can get their hands on before traipsing off to get barred from some godforsaken pub. But the jig is up for our morally ambiguous ringleader. Rooster, the once and future dare-devil of the South East, local legend and dying spirit of a nation has his back against the wall, as the council makes to evict him, and old grudges come to ruin him. And so the play goes, a man once the talk of the town faces his day of judgement. But of course, underneath Jez Butterworth’s masterful text is so much more. This is Butterworth’s State of the Nation play with a razor-sharp edge, the text weaves together complex and murky components of British rural identity as it faces a crisis point. Byron seems to represent a lost folk tradition, that has been abandoned, neglected and marginalised. It is one of those plays that asks who and where we are as a nation.

It is worth noting, that this play has something of a cult-like following, with Mark Rylance’s performance becoming the stuff of folk legend. I am one of the people in said cult, and count the Mark Rylance production as one of the greatest stage performances I have ever seen.

This production has moments of charisma, and while it does not hold a torch to the production, few can. What we are presented with by the Network Theatre’s production, is one that executes what is on the page with confidence and commitment. Perhaps it leans a little heavy into the comedy early on and neglects the darkness that lurks from the first few scenes, meaning that when the brutal reality of the play does roll around, it feels at moments out of place.

It is an amateur production with a huge challenge on its hands, the iconic production set the standard exceptionally high. And, while it is hard to compare, I think the potential for a smaller, in-yer-face, intimate production was not reached, leaving the piece a little underwhelming, despite the exceptional text. Performances all serve the text well, and having grown up in rural England, I remember many a character from the Mayday Fair or church fete, but at times the lack of chutzpah and conviction in the meaning of the text leaves the piece wanting.

2 gold stars

Review by Tom Carter

Jerusalem
BY JEZ BUTTERWORTH, DIRECTED BY HELEN MASON
Booking to 27th April 2024
https://www.networktheatre.org/

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