Sunday 17 July 2022

Theatre Review - Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem with Mark Rylance at the Apollo Theatre

 I rarely do reviews of the plays I go to see. I have to have something to say and some insight to add before I think it's worth while. It's like reviewing football, just saying someone was excellent is a bit of a dull read. However I really had to review Jerusalem. I am a big fan of both Jez Butterworth and Mark Rylance, so I was very keen to see the production. I knew it would be a good watch. However that wasn't enough to inspire me to review it. The thing that inspired me was a comment I heard from a bit of a hooray Henry type at the interval, made to Hooray Henrietta type (sorry for the stereotype, but I couldn't think of a better way to sume them up). We were in the drinks queue and he said "It's rather funny but very unrealistic"

It made me realise what a sheltered life some people have lead. As we came home, the Missus said to our friends "That was just like hanging around with Roger and his mate back in the 1980's". Although Mill Hill didn't have people living in caravans having rave's winding up the newby Nimby's in the 'new estate', Rylance's Johnny 'Rooster' Byron was an amallgum of three people I know/knew very well. Two of them are dead. Johnny 'Rooster'Byron cultivated an image of indestructibility and was actively involved in drug dealing to the local kids, who hung around his caravan. He was an avowed rebel, someone who was happy living outside society. The stories of his indestructibility reminded me of one local character, sadly missed, who was known as 'Porky'. He worked for my Dad for a while. He caught a pair of travellers robbing his car, in the carpark of my Dads crash repair business. When he confronted them, one stabbed him in the stomach, Porky pulled the knife out and stabbed the pair of them to death. When the ambulance arrived, he had to be persuaded to go to hospital. He was charged with murder. My Dad appeared as a character witness. The case was dismissed, when Porky was challenged whether he intended to kill the travellers when he stabbed them (murder must have intent), he replied "M'lord, I think you'll find that when someone stabs you in the stomach, you really don't think of anything at all, you just want to stay alive". The Judge dismissed the case on the spot. He was also shot with a shotgun at The Mill Pub, for some sort of shenanigans. It was the cancer that caught up with him. He was the manager of The False Dots for a while and was involved in th trafficing of various illegal substances. He'd been banned from most of Mill Hill's pubs, but generally Landlords were too terrified to actually enforce the bans. My Dad told me he was the toughest man he'd ever seen and my Dad had been a world war II bomber pilot. He even looked a bit like Rooster. 

The second character was another local character called Spud. He was the go to person for weed in the locality for most of my mates. He'd grow his own all over the place. Perhaps the funniest place was in the garden of former Tory  Barnet Mayor Dennis Dippel. Spud got a job with his mate doing the Mayor's garden. Spud figured that if he planted Cannabis at the back, there was no chance of the Police finding it. He had many plantations. A local chief of police would buy the weed for a relative with MS, which meant he was given a free pass for his activities, so long as he didn't take the mickey too much. He had a colouful past. He'd been caught running guns into Franco's Spain and had lost an arm making bombs at home. He was a highly knowledgable chap and in later years used to teach disabled people how to use shotguns at a local clay pigeon range. Sadly, cancer also got him

The third character was a chap called 'Dicky'. He used to drive a VW camper van and sell drugs to the kids at Orange Hill school. I think he's still alive. He'd reputedly done ten years for murdering his girlfriend, supposedly chopping her head off. He was the next door neighbour of the bass player of the False Dots and I got on well with him, without ever really feeling comfortable in his company. There was a rumour he'd been chucked out of the Hell's Angels for being too mad and whilst I don't know if this was true, it was believable. I saw him openly dealing to kids a couple of times, whilst policemen looked the other way. I suspect they were as terrified of him as the rest of us. I recall one of the kids at school giving him a tenner for some Lebanese resin, only for Dickie to nick the cash and tell the kid "Didn't your mum ever tell you not to trust drug dealers, drugs are bad for your health". I remeber Dickie telling me "Kids like him shouldn't take drugs, he's a mug, I did him a favour". 

If you've seen the play and you knew any/all of the characters, you'd recognise elements of all of these. I wonder if Jez Butterworth spent any time in Mill Hill in the 70's and 80's. 

As for the rest of the characters. The various girls that hang around the encampment were like the girls who used to hang around with us. They enjoyed the excitement and the capers that we got up to. Often they would egg us on to even worse things. Most are now highly respectable. Sadly one or two didn't make it. The girl who starts the show, the fifteen year old in the fairy costume reminded me of an ex. She was totally in a world of her own. She seemed to blunder in and out of all manner of situations and never seemed to come to any harm in what seemed a situation set inevitably for disaster. She's still a friend and still a dippy hippy. Some people seem blessed with a Guardian Angel to guide them through life's minefield.

The enraged Dad, who struck me as a bit dodgy also reminded me of a couple of characters. I don't want to say much more, as my friends would not really appreciate it, but that character is all too true.

Then there was "The Professor". He remided me a little bit of a character we used to call "John The Vicar" who'd hang around some times. He'd not mind at all when he saw the various shenangans we were all getting up to. I think he was in his 50's or 60's, we were all in our teens. A few years after that scene ended, a former guitarist in the band, who was openly bisexual, told me that the Vicar used to pay him for sex. I was horrified, but he was quite happy to be paid so he could buy weed. He assured me it only happened because he was fine with it. My Dad used to tell me to be very careful of adults who hung around with kids. They never bothered me, but over the years I learned of all manner of shenanigans and the ending of the play made me feel uncomfortable whilst recognising the characters and the behaviours. The world is full of these dodgy chancers and their secret weapon is that they are extraordinarily good at convincing their victims that they are not being exploited. It is horrible really. 

Mark Rylance is awesome. A real tour de force. To me, as someone who knew such characters, I was impressed with how he pulled off such a larger than life role. In contrast, Mackenzie Crook was pretty overshadowed, that is not a criticism, it is what the role required. Butterworth also impressively sums up the aspirations of the group. They all have a different world view, one I also recognise. The kid who wants to travel, the one who is happy working in the abbatoir and going to the pub, the one who doesn't really know what he wants.

And then for me there was the thing that resonates with what I blog about. The council are the bogeymen. Wanting to clean up the spot, move on the kids, gentrify the area and put up another housing estate. We see this all of the time. The reason that kids hang around such places is more to do with total boredom and lack of things to do in life as wanting to take drugs. The one big difference between the kids in the play and my own experiences, we all had a focus. I had a band and we wanted to succeed. Our friends all felt we were on a mission. Butterworths kids seem a bit lost, if truth be told. Rooster was the voice of anti authoritarian rebellion and was exciting. Why wouldn't you want to hang around with him? 

The final aspect was Rooster's kid. His attitude to parenting is sadly reminiscent of a few people I know. Totally selfish and without compassion. What most kids crave is their parents love. Rooster thinks his tall tales suffice as parenting. Sadly, they don't.

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