REVIEW: JERUSALEM Apollo Theatre Shaftesbury Avenue

Four star rating Jez Butterworth s contemporary vision of the English countryside features no farmers or foxhunters – just sad, mad and dangerous people getting off their heads on drugs in the woods. It s the annual St George s Day village fair and a rag

Four star rating

Jez Butterworth's contemporary vision of the English countryside features no farmers or foxhunters - just sad, mad and dangerous people getting off their heads on drugs in the woods.

It's the annual St George's Day village fair and a rag tag of Morris men, teenage runaways, and losers gather at Johnny Byron's woodland caravan to drink, smoke, take speed and hear his stories.

Johnny is the pied piper to these lords of misrule, hosting the riotous carnival metres from the new estate of executive homes where families have moved for a better quality of life.


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After decades leading the village youth astray, they've got a petition against him and Avon Police will evict him in the morning. In the meantime, his ex is dropping off his son for a visit and a former friend comes looking for his runaway

step-daughter.

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Mark Rylance has rightly been feted for his portrayal of the cackling, limping flawed hero that is Johnny; the Peter Pan who never grew up, the inveterate storyteller, gypsy poet and rogue, who uncompromisingly remains true to himself, even though it ultimately leaves him alone.

Butterworth doesn't sentimentalise rural life, its stifled opportunity, poverty, violence and boredom. One youth works in an abattoir all week and gets oblivious at the weekend, another is leaving for Australia, the pub landlord feels trapped by the endless round of serving rounds, and Johnny's sidekick Ginger has only pipe dreams to sustain him.

But he mourns our disconnection with nature and the ancient English myths of giants, pagan gods, magic and fairies that Johnny speaks of. With oblique references to child abuse, he asks are these teenagers any safer in those executive homes and shows how we've swapped our freedom for convention.

Jerusalem is visceral - you smell the earth from Ultz's woodland set, the cigarettes, sweat and burnt flesh. It's also rousing, belly laugh funny, emotionally engrossing and, at more than three hours, way too long. There's a huge cast and a few characters too many, with false notes struck by a too convenient professor of ancient English lore, and a flaky fairy in love with being Queen of the May.

Until April 24.

Bridget Galton

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