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By Jasmine Crittenden
August 26, 2013
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By Jasmine Crittenden
August 26, 2013
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"Friends! Outcasts. Leeches. Undesirables. A blessing on you, and upon this beggars' banquet," announces Johnny 'Rooster' Byron (Nicholas Eadie), Jerusalem's comic, charismatic, trailer-dwelling, tall-tale telling protagonist. "This day we draw a line in the chalk, and push back hard against the bastard pitiless busybody council, and drive them from this place forever."

Jez Butterworth's play transforms a contemporary 'citizen against the authorities' conflict into a drama of Shakespearean proportions. Rooster, once the most fearless stuntsman in Wiltshire County, Southwest England, and purported meeter of giants, now inhabits a woodland outlaw's existence. His mobile home embraces all that modern housing development doesn't: eccentricity, spontaneity, nature's vagaries, the possibility of fairies, elves and supernatural forces. However, it's not some kind of pastoral, Sound of Music wonderland. There's drug taking and a dysfunctional relationship with a nine-year-old-son. And, when Jerusalem begins, Rooster has just 24 hours to save his home, and way of life, from the Kennet and Avon Council.

The day's action is packed into three acts which are over before you know it. Never laboured, Butterworth's script skips, sings and surprises with an irresistible musicality, and his characters are three-dimensional and unpredictable, commenting on all manner of topics, from the homogenising of local news outlets to how a giant might (realistically) be expected to behave. They're at once quintessentially English and undeniably individual.

Under Helen Tonkin's direction, Eadie embraces Rooster's complexity with a convincing dynamism. He's no role model, but he's certainly a last bastion against the dreary homogenisation threatened by endless housing estates, lamented by Philip Larkin in 'Going, Going'. An impressive cast takes on Rooster's band of merry (and not-so-merry followers), who flock in search of pleasure, or refuge, or both, with a standout performance from Jeremy Waters in the role of Ginger, a lost soul who dreams of becoming the local pub's DJ.

Tom Bannerman's beaten-up set is very much the world of the eternal morning after, with its empty beer bottles, half-empty spirits bottles (consulted frequently throughout), destroyed television and backdrop built of corrugated plastic. Blake Garner effectively traces the 24-hour arc of action with well-controlled lighting, executed particularly effectively in the closing scene.

The New Theatre's production of Jerusalem is the play's Australian premiere. First performed at London's Royal Court Theatre in 2009, it moved to the West End, where audiences queued from 3am to buy tickets and gave standing ovations every night. 2011 saw a shift across the Atlantic to Broadway, with the play receiving a Tony Award nomination and lead actor Mark Rylance winning a Tony Award.

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