26 April 2022
JERUSALEM (Apollo Theatre) Review

I missed the run of this production at The Royal Court Theatre in 2009 (and subsequent West End transfer) because the subject matter wasn’t of particular interest:  an ex-daredevil living in a caravan somewhere in Wiltshire with his life about to turn pear-shaped on account of assorted ills about to befall him, including being evicted.  I probably would’ve missed it this time around also if it wasn’t for everyone raving about Mark Rylance’s performance, which is how I ended up with a ticket to this 3-hour extravaganza.

Not as out there as “Scandaltown“, it definitely helps to have a bit of Englishness to one’s character in order to fully appreciate some of the references and inside jokes.  Although, as part of reviews for the original run, “Jerusalem” has been described as the greatest contemporary play, Jez Butterworth’s writing seems to be a bit of a hit-and-miss for me, as I found this play to be a far cry from the gentle eloquence of “The Ferryman” or the clever comedy of “Mojo”.  The text feels dated, most of the characters are somewhat one-dimensional and, even though the ensemble cast is strong, none of it is particularly memorable.

And then there is Mark Rylance…  Holy smokes, he alone^ makes this play what it is.  I saw Rylance in “Farinelli and the King” a few years ago, but, fantastic though he was in it, it couldn’t have possibly prepared me for the sheer powerhouse of his performance.  Rooster Byron is a physically demanding role, but Rylance has fun with it, thus giving the play a bit of a carefree tone, which, in turn, makes the 3 hours fly by in a flash.  When he first appears, limping and bow-chested, it’s impossible to take your eyes off him.  As Byron gets more serious (or perhaps focused) throughout the play, and even though, by the end, we’ve gone full circle from joyful to somber, Rylance continuously makes him a sympathetic character, flaws notwithstanding.

^I say “alone”, but, of course, this production is directed by Ian Rickson, to whom I have become rather partial over the years.  Heh seems to find a lovely balance between having the actors give an honest performance without being overly in your face.

Cheapskate enjoyment value: £12 purely for Rylance (the play without him would be worth far less).

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