Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth (Banham Theatre)

Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem is another of those plays I always felt guilty for never reading. After seeing LUU Open Theatre’s production last week, I’m glad I never did, because I’m certain it would have bored me to tears. It is a play that doesn’t do well stuck in a book, but comes to life on the stage in a way that gripped me from the start.

I was raised by Americans who, despite living in the UK longer than either of them lived in any state, never really assimilated to British culture. Watching a play that is essentially about “Englishness” was fascinating from this perspective, but I felt almost like a tourist, and many of the references went straight over my head.

There were moments though, that engaged me in such a nostalgic way. The play opens at a raucous party in the middle of the woods (I absolutely love watching people go wild onstage, and the cast were clearly having a wicked time), and I was brought right back to my own adolescence, dancing round the fire at parties in the forest, the path through the woods lit with glow sticks and the sound of the music muffled by the trees. I saw my teenage self in Tanya and Pea (portrayed by Mo Hocken and Kathryn Bates), and remembered strongly how exciting it was to have older friends who saw no moral issue with inviting fifteen-year-old girls to share in their alcohol-fueled debauchery. I can imagine my mother watching Jerusalem and wondering “Where are the parents? How do they not know where their children are?”

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[Harry Duff Walker as Rooster (left) and Ben Perry as Davey (right). Photo credit: Izzy Kynoch]

Parenthood is a theme that spoke to me very clearly in Jerusalem. Johnny “Rooster” Byron, despite his bravado mired in the legendary tales of his youth, plays father to everyone, his illegal encampment in the woods the hub of the action and of every confrontation. Played by the outstandingly talented Harry Duff Walker (Duffy to his friends), what I saw most in Rooster is a man who deeply cares. His subtly manipulative nature and controversial moral compass aside, Rooster shows an incredible amount of love for the people in his life. It is a different kind of love, however, that we see for his son, Marky, and the struggle between the love for his son and and the love for his lifestyle is uncomfortable to watch. A touching moment of tenderness between Rooster and Marky’s mother Dawn (Bea Lawrence) is a testament to the strength of both hers and Duffy’s acting. Having seen them both perform in a number of roles, I am continually in awe of how fully they throw themselves into roles and how much they improve every time I see them perform. Chemistry is hard to fake in student theatre, but it was undeniable even in the few minutes they spent onstage together. Bea Lawrence’s portrayal of Dawn was heartbreaking – the way she held herself, the choke in her voice as she willed herself not to cry, the space she put between herself and Rooster. These details spoke of a strong directorial hand on the part of Nick Dawkins and Tom Claxton, and I am astounded at how much of an impact this had in such a short amount of stage time. Equally, Duffy as Rooster is a force to be reckoned with. His accent never faltered, his swagger never fell. If I didn’t know Duffy personally, it would have been hard to believe there was an actor inside those shabby clothes.

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[Beatrice Lawrence as Dawn (left), Co-Director Tom Claxton (centre) and Harry Duff Walker (right). Photo credit: Izzy Kynoch]

A brief mention must go to the set, designed by Bobby Bates and Roz Chomacki. I worked with both Bobby and Roz on the first show I ever directed, and they are always the first ones I approach now when I need designers for a show. The set was a feast for the eyes, and the creativity and imagination they managed to pull together (despite being in pre-production for their own final degree project- I honestly don’t know how they manage to eat and sleep) amazed me.

****

Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth
Directed by Nick Dawkins and Tom Claxton
Banham Theatre, 19-21 April 2016
http://www.luu.org.uk/groups/OpenTheatreSociety

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