Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
on 2 November 2011
Jerusalem is a play about England, and I cannot think of a playwright since Shakespeare who has tackled the subject with such upfront gutsiness as Jez Butterworth does here. The text of the play is a real page-turner, not least because it is very funny.
In his use of language, Butterworth is more post-Pinter than he is post-Shakespeare. But neverthless, the distant echo of A Midsummer Night's Dream does haunt this play. And like Shakespeare, he does pepper the text with snatches of old songs, at least one of which is worth quoting here:
To see a strange outlandish fowl,
A quaint baboon, an ape, an owl,
A dancing bear, a giant's bone,
A warlock shift a standing stone,
A rhymer's jests, a juggler's cheats,
A tumbler showing cunning feats,
A morris dance, a puppet play,
Mad Tom to sing a roundelay,
All this upon St George's Day!
In the dialogue, Butterworth captures the idioms of speech, down Wiltshire way, so very well that one might easily mistake him for a native son of that county. Just as he captures the sense of England's "pleasant pastures" disappearing beneath a slew of by-passes and identikit housing estates.
What repeatedly enlivens the play - and possibly seperates it from the Pinter - are Butterworth's twin senses of humour and of fun. Bad things may happen, but there is nearly always a joke to hand. And he likewise adds colour to it with a liberal sprinkling of contemporary pop-culture references. Although quite how badly these may date with the passage of time, is anybody's guess.
The characters - Johnny, Ginger, the Professor, et al - are very well drawn, which is to say that Butterworth conveys a strong sense of their individuality, as characters. By the time the play ends, you feel as though you know them very well.
So, is Johnny Byron devil, or wizard, or neither, or both? You will have to either read the play, or see it, in order to answer that question for yourself.