Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
"Jerusalem" by Jez Butterworth
directed by Marie Gardner for the Pranksters Theatre Company
There’s a bucolic, rumbustious romp in modern Merrie England at the Electric Theatre in Guildford this week, leading up to St George’s Day and Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary. But it’s not all cakes and ale in “Jerusalem”, nor in this neck of the Wiltshire woods, despite Morris dancing (the Guildford Morris Blitz and Pilgrim Morris Men performing in the foyer in the interval), a (missing) village Queen of the May and a stream of dialogue that’s never less than entertaining, comic and at times surreal. Be prepared for some strong language throughout and a roller-coaster of dramatic action in the second act.
Mark Ashdown plays “Rooster” John Byron, a shamanic drug dealer living in a camp in the forest, whose charisma, raves and ready hand-outs of drugs and alcohol attract a motley band of young people and the hatred and suspicion of residents of the new houses in the village, who want their corner of England “cleaned up”. It’s a demanding role and Ashdown fills it with huge gusto and sensitivity to the nuances of the character. Despite his rascally ways, we begin to sympathise with Rooster before the end of the play.
The young hangers-on, played with wonderful energy and great comic timing by Alex Mircica, Paul Weems, Neil Brown, Amy Yorston and Amy de Roche, are like Shakespearean mechanicals in their naivety. Lee is about to go off to Australia with little or no money in his pocket; Davey’s chauvinism is so complete that he feels ill if he finds he’s wandered out of Wiltshire into another county and he “can’t see the point of other countries”; Ginger’s ambition to be “called” a DJ is the butt of endless banter and cruel practical jokes. The girls who generously offer Lee “one for the road” are nevertheless freshly and innocently living for the moment, which seems to be all they own.
Phil Snell as the eccentric Professor speaks up in poetry for the English belief in individualism and independence. Ian Creese as Wesley the disillusioned village pub landlord speaks up drunkenly for the Englishman hounded by his corporate employers on the one hand and his wife on the other.
The Pranksters have created a highly comic, poetic, dramatic commentary on the state of England’s “green and pleasant land” in Marie Gardner’s excellent production of “Jerusalem”.
The play runs until Shakespeare's anniversary/St George's Day - 23rd April 2016.
You can buy tickets here: http://pranksterstheatre.org.uk
This review is also published online at Essential Surrey (www.essential surrey.co.uk/theatre)