Jerusalem review at Watermill Theatre, Newbury – ‘intense and intimate’
It was always going to be hard to separate Jerusalem from memories of Mark Rylance. In Jez Butterworth’s contemporary classic the part of Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron – a drug dealer who lives in a caravan in the middle of the Wiltshire forest – was basically written for him.
But Lisa Blair’s production puts its own fierce stamp on the play in two canny ways: by condensing the sprawling scope of Butterworth’s play into a tiny space, with Frankie Bradshaw’s brilliantly busy design complete with battered caravan almost toppling down onto the audience. The play, in close up, becomes incredibly, intimately intense.
Also, by being performed here in this secluded patch of countryside, the production attaches itself to the idea of rural elegy more genuinely than it could in Sloane Square or the West End.
Jasper Britton as Byron also puts his own mark on this modern day St George, a man whose myth is stripped away as reality intrudes. He’s dressed as an old biker, nails painted black, in grubby leathers and a Yamaha T-shirt. He has a deep, harsh growl that occasionally breaks into a bark.
His sharp eyes, little pinpricks of black, seem to keep him connected to reality: he might be drugged up, or continually getting lost in fantastical tales of giants and nobles, but those quick eyes show us he knows what he’s doing.
And even as his body stoops, even as he becomes increasingly diminished, throughout the exhausting play, those black eyes still pierce the audience.
One or two of the actors in the ensemble don’t quite capture the rhythm of Butterworth’s dialogue, and this occasionally throws things off kilter. But by and large it’s a really strong revival, deftly miniaturised by Blair without losing any sense of scope or scale.