Jez Butterworth’s “Jerusalem” is a pure type of theatre we rarely see now. Directed by Charlie Collinson, LUDS’s decision to produce this play wasn’t without its risks; with its chewy language, countless textual references, and a projection of England scuffed right up against its dreamy, idealised place of popular imagination, “Jerusalem” is far from light-hearted. But, most poignantly, the play can be read as a chronicle of us, now.

George Burrows received a standing ovation for his impeccable performance as Johnny “Rooster” Byron.

Butterworth’s earlier attempts to “write something that concerned Englishness” were, he told BBC Radio 4, “stuffed birds…they wouldn’t fly.” In his endeavour to portray audiences with nationhood in its most honest, blunt form, he sets “Jerusalem” in a fictional Wiltshire village on St George’s Day. Collinson’s production of the play is liberatingly funny and there are some admirable directorial decisions. Johnny “Rooster” Byron (George Burrows) is something special. From the outset of the performance, there was an impressive humanity in Burrows’ prodigious performance, which was gripping from start to finish. Ginger (James Weatherley-Buss) was played particularly energetically. His DJ aspirations, although actually an unemployed plasterer, failed to undermine his dramatic purpose, gripping audiences in telling Jonny’s back story and informing us of events outside the clearing. Wesley (Christian Darnell) also provided some (temporary) comic relief. Forced to dance for drugs whilst wearing a bunch of flowers on his head, Darnell had the audience in stitches.

From left to right: the Professor (Lara Field), Lee (Ella Rose Norridge), Davey (Callum Goring), Johnny (George Burrows), Tanya (Arthur Mills), Pea (Olivia Yates) and Ginger (James Weatherley-Buss).

There was also some impressive multi-rolling. Phoebe Hooper mesmerized the audience as Phaedra, singing the hymn, “Jerusalem” whilst costumed in angelic white. The lyrics: “And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountain green” reiterate the play’s central concern with England and her promise of hope. However, then Hooper swaps her wings for a snapback, going onto play Johnny’s young son, Marky, in a laugh-out-loud performance which was heart-wrenchingly honest. Tom Doyle’s transition from Parsons to Troy was frighteningly sharp, whilst Angela Hehir remained a consistently humourous presence across her roles as ex-girlfriend, Dawn, and council official, Fawcett.

Stage manager, Anna Townley, mastered her clever use of setting and props to clearly convey time and space. A “State of England” play, Jonny’s grotty caravan and home to shambolic drifters, was presented as hellish from the very start. From booze, drugs and cigs, to graffiti attacking the new estate responsible for their impending eviction, the set was bold enough to symbolise a reductive state but didn’t steal away from the actors. Electrifying strobe lighting and sudden bursts of music only highlighted the cast’s brilliant sharpness and evident rehearsing with flawless transitions between scenes.

On face value, nothing much happens in Jerusalem, however, Collinson’s integration of ‘in-yer-face’ naturalism with Butterworth’s remarkable, literary sophistication stages a dramatic de-stabilisation of space, place and history.

Feature Image: https://www.getreading.co.uk/whats-on/arts-culture-news/young-performers-invited-audition-jez-6472639