By Jez Butterworth. Directed by Kathleen Duborg. A United Players of Vancouver production. At the Jericho Arts Centre on Friday, June 7. Continues until June 30.
With a talented cast, rebellious fervour, and at-times-passable English accents, the United Players of Vancouver bring delightful spirit to the darkly comic Jerusalem.
Written by Jez Butterworth—whose more recent The Ferryman won best play at the Tony Awards this weekend—Jerusalem centers on Johnny “Rooster” Byron (Adam Henderson), an aging alcoholic and drug user who has been squatting in a Wiltshire forest for decades. When the council officials threaten to evict him, he and his devoted throng of young, hard-partying delinquents decide not to go down without a fight. Meanwhile, the local St. George’s Day fair brings celebrations and angst for the kids, and a young girl mysteriously goes missing.
The play itself fights against a laborious run time and a disappointing third act, and it’s a credit to the players that they manage to sell it in spite of that. They bring the laughs in all the right places, clearly having fun with the irreverence of it all. They balance the highs of joyful, coked-up antiestablishment vigour with the grim lows of self-destruction, and it almost makes the three hours worth it.
The set design is excellent, with the detailed trees and hundreds of small props making Rooster’s Wood feel full of life. There are some inspired directing choices too, including one character entrance that’s too good to spoil.
Much of the play’s heart lies in the younger characters’ chemistry, which the ensemble brings in beautifully. Lee (Marc LeBlanc) agonizes over whether or not to leave and start a new life in Australia. Tanya (Erin Morgan) tries to seduce him in spite of the unidentified animal poop she’s slept in. A special mention goes to Joshua Osborne as Ginger, aspiring DJ and Rooster’s most loyal follower, who brings a wonderful physicality to the role. His character also enters one scene high as a kite, staring terrified at a coconut, and it’s hysterical.
But Jerusalem belongs, uncontested, to Henderson’s Rooster. He commands the stage with every movement, and in every outrageous line. He’s the one who truly conveys the unease behind the jokes, slowly pulling apart his own crumbling façade until we see a man spiralling and stagnating while the world moves on without him.
He screams, he cries, and he bleeds, and gives it his all every moment he’s on-stage. In an early scene, Rooster pours himself a glass of milk, tops it off with (prop) vodka and a (real) raw egg, and guzzles it. When you see an actor do that, you know it’s going to be a show to remember.