Apollo Theatre, London – until 7 August 2022
So it’s back, another St George’s Day before a west country village fair. Twelve years on from Jez Butterworth’s glorious shock-troop assault on metropolitan sensibilities, we welcome back Ultz’s woodland glade and knackered caravan, and surf along with Ian Rickson’s bravura direction. Here once more are the council officials slapping an enforcement notice on the rave wreckage and the filthy sofa full of hungover teens. Here is the court of Johnny Rooster Byron.
And Mark Rylance is back, twelve years after his first handstand dive into the water-butt I am happy to report that he still executes it with undimmed vigour, deftly another egg into a disgusting hangover-cure, mixes it in his atrocious trousers’ and necks it before embarking on a dozen crazy yarns and archaic bucolic-alcoholic spiritualities, whether about giants walking or Nigerian traffic wardens kidnapping him.
Around him return four veterans of the 2010 run: Mackenzie Crook is once more the aspiring DJ and unemployed plasterer, Ginger, Alan David the “Professor”, vague but prophetic pet distressed-gent of the rowdying teens, and Gerard Horan as the pub landlord forced into spotless Morris gear for the brewery’s publicity.
The rants, the vigour, the laughs, the shock are all there, and the undercurrent of anger at modernity’s callous uniformities (Davey’s speech about his abattoir job, and Lee’s hopeless dream of emigration, both hit as hard as they did even before the Osborne austerity years)
This is no review – no idea if there is even a press night, I booked the day it was announced and the run is sold out already. But it is a reflection. In 2018, I saw the Watermill’s fine revival with Jasper Britton. I had wanted to see if the play worked without the magic Mr Rylance, and whether it had a new taste after the Brexit vote. Yes in both cases.
Now, on the far side of the pandemic, there’s another new flavour which proves how well the play will endure as a classic. One becomes aware of the altered palate of national taste after MeToo (it’s a very macho play, male predation taken for granted. Not all the shag-jokes got a warm response). But more than that, we have over two years been cabin’d and confined by regulations and jobsworth enforcers, banned for months of restless springs from what the rural teens call “Gatherings”. Would we, I wondered, feel that we are all Rooster Byron now? Angrily festive, heedless of health and law, rebels asserting our damaged individuality by breaking all social rules for liberty?
Oddly, for me the opposite sense kept rising in the first half. Rooster Byron is a classic Lord of Misrule: a charismatic, amusing, hedonistic, dishevelled , insouciant law-breaker with a preference for younger women over the tedious duties of family. And I kept thinking “hang on! We’ve GOT one of those, in Downing Street. And we’re liking it less and less…”
Hadn’t expected that feeling: interesting. Boris as a genteel Rooster, though more Bullingdon-and-Spectator than pig-killing and pub fracas. But however you come out of it, it remains a hell of a show. Might as well exorcise our national weakness for wild, irresponsible, disorderly charisma in a theatre: better than doing it in than a ballot box.
Do we still love Rooster? @lib_thinks reflects on the #WestEnd return of Jez Butterworth’s multi-award-winning @JerusalemPlay, in which #MarkRylance reprises his starring role 12 years on. ‘It remains a hell of a show.’ @DMTWestEnd @SFP_London #JerusalemThePlay #LondonTheatre