I missed out on seeing Jez Butterworth’s acclaimed play Jerusalem a few years ago when it played at the Royal Court and later transferred to the West End. So I was pleased to discover that the play was being revived at the Lost Theatre in south London. Following a day in the life of Johnny “Rooster” Byron, a role originally played by Mark Rylance, the play weaves together the down-at-heel, drug and alcohol-infused life of Johnny and his friends with tall tales and William Blake references to create a modern, lyrical view of England that doesn’t shy away from unpleasantness.
Ryan Davies has big shoes to fill as Johnny, but he is superb right from the beginning, emerging hungover from his caravan to down a disgusting “cure” and refresh himself with a line of drugs. He is excellent as the swaggering, self-aggrandising soul of the party as well as the tender father to a young son, displaying a powerful vulnerability as his life crumbles around him.
The play has a large supporting cast who do a great job, from Mitchell Fisher as Johnny’s friend Ginger to Richard Holliday as a delightfully eccentric elderly professor. Oliver Hewett is excellent as pub landlord Wesley, coerced into morris dancing at the village fair.
The intricate set by Mark Magill is very well done and really makes you feel at home with the characters, while director Jack Bowman has paced the production so that the running time of over three hours practically flew by. The production managed to convince me that this is a superb play, not just a star vehicle for a well-known actor, and I’m very glad I made the effort to attend.