Six days, five shows, some dancers and a requiem

After Monday’s attendance at Richmond Theatre for Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, this has turned into a theatre-packed week.

On Tuesday, I went to the Soho Theatre to review gay theatre legend Bette Bourne being ‘interviewed’ by Mark Ravenhill. The inverted commas are because, although the evening was based on transcripts of interview conversations between the pair of them, Ravenhill then took those transcripts and cut them down into scripted conversations. Last year, the conversations took place over three evenings: this current production further cuts them down to a single evening. It’s not a particularly successful approach to investigating what is a spellbindingly personal story — but being in the presence of Bourne recounting tales from his life is a privilege, in any case.

Wednesday’s outing was to the West End transfer of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem from the Royal Court to the Apollo. I saw it in its original staging, and I have to say it’s one of the few theatrical productions where a second viewing not only brings out new levels of understanding of the script’s many layers, but also suggests that a third visit would reveal even more. As a metaphor for the changing state of England, some of those levels on my Australian friend Chad. Ah well, his loss.

Thursday was an odd day. During the day, the wonderful feeling of experiencing the St John’s College, Cambridge Choir in the college chapel singing elements of Fauré’s Requiem was tempered by the performance being part of the funeral service for my uncle John, a Fellow of the College, who passed away a couple of weeks ago after a long battle with cancer. Family pre-Christmas trips to the West End helped fuel the interest in theatre I’m lucky enough to be able to draw upon in my working life today, so that’s thanks in part to John. Further connections emerged in that Jez Butterworth went to St John’s, Jerusalem was one of the hymns during the service, and the chaplain ruminated on the implicit meanings of Blake’s words during his sermon.

Later in the evening and back in London, it was off to Hampstead for a performance of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods by the MA Music Theatre students of the Central School of Speech and Drama. A creative use of clothes racks and storage trunks showed that you don’t need a huge set budget to convey a sense of place. The whole piece was characterised by some imaginative staging, from quick changes and disappearing witches to expressionistic dance allowing the ensemble to represent the woods and the beanstalk. The quality of performance did vary quite a lot, though — while we may have seen one or two future West End stars, I won’t feel too disappointed if one or two others decide to pursue other careers.

Tonight sees a break from the relentless theatregoing, which starts up again tomorrow with a trip to see Ghosts starring Lesley Sharp and Iain Glen (who is also directing), in previews at the Duchess Theatre. It will be by first experience with Ibsen, I have to admit, and I don’t know what to expect. After that, it’s back to television, and the grand final of So You Think You Can Dance, which I’ll be live tweeting and writing about, especially after the week’s offstage dramas, which saw finalist Robbie White felled by a dislocated shoulder, briefly replaced by last week’s loser Alastair Postlethwaite, and now replace by Alastair and two other, non-competing, dancers to couple with the three remaining competitors.

And that’s most likely the end of this particular glut of theatrical outings. But there will, in the weeks to come, doubtless be more…

Jerusalem, Apollo Theatre

Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron is a master storyteller, charismatic and funny. We are as much in his thrall as some of the local villagers, although they are more there for the drugs he deals than the tales he weaves of giants and babies born dressed, speaking and walking.

As the local council makes efforts to evict him after complaints by residents of the encroaching estate, Mark Rylance is a primal force as Byron. A drink-sodden, drug-addled metaphor of an England which is still in contact with its pre-Christian spiritual mythology, but which is constantly being eroded by external forces, Jez Butterworth has created one of modern theatre’s most mesmeric characters.

Rylance’s towering performance does not overshadow the rest of the large ensemble, however. Byron’s hangers-on and fair weather friends, some of whom live on the estate threatening his way of life and who have signed the petition calling for his eviction, are drawn with a deft stroke of the comic pen. While Mackenzie Crook and Alan David provide the biggest laughs, Tom Brooke’s wide-eyed would-be emigré imbues the comedy scenes with a sense of realism, and the serious ones with a sense of absurdity, that leavens the whole production.

As with last year’s staging at the Royal Court, Ultz’s set design, with its towering elm trees, battered furniture and implausibly American caravan, is another character, enriching the atmosphere of Butterworth’s glorious script. And as the comedy falls away at the close of the third act, surrendering to brutal violence and a call to awaken the country’s long forgotten forces, one is left in no doubt that this a superb piece of theatre.

Apollo, London, February 10-April 24
Author: Jez Butterworth
Director: Ian Rickson
Producers: Sonia Friedman Productions, Royal Court Theatre Productions and Old Vic Productions
Cast includes: Mark Rylance, Mackenzie Crook, Alan David, Tom Brooke, Gerard Horan, Danny Kirrane
Running time: 3hrs 10mins

* Reviewed for The Stage

Jerusalem at the Royal Court

On Tuesday, I went along to the Royal Court to accompany the lovely Anna to see _Jerusalem_ by Jez Butterworth.

I was going to write up a review here, but there seems little point, as Anna’s sums it up so brilliantly:

> Byron, then, would be a gift to any actor, but few could inhabit him so completely as Mark Rylance. It is a stunning performance that leaves you in no doubt that a gaggle of hangers-on and fair-weather friends really would be utterly in awe of him. The audience certainly are.

[Go read her review now](