BWW Review: JERUSALEM at Little Theatre, University Of Adelaide
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 3rd August 2019.
The University of Adelaide Theatre Guild is presenting Jez Butterworth's 2009 award-winning hit play, Jerusalem, under the direction of Nick Fagan, who has put together a fine cast and created an impressive production. The play was inspired by a retired builder, whom Butterworth met in Pewsey, and by that town's annual carnival week. The title is taken from the popular hymn, Hubert Parry's setting of William Blake's poem. This little spot in England's pastures green, however, is a long way from the idyllic setting of Blake's poem.
The Kennet and Avon Council, in Wiltshire, is, once again, trying to get rid of the village of Flintlock's worst resident, the Romany no-hoper, Johnny 'Rooster' Byron, along with his dilapidated old caravan and surrounding mess, and the layabouts and underage girls whom he supplies with drink and drugs in a continual series of parties. They have been trying to move him on for many years, with no success, but, now, a new estate has been built nearby and the residents want action. The council has lined up the bailiffs and a large contingent of the local constabulary and Rooster has until 9am the next day to get out, or be forcibly removed and arrested.
It is Saint George's Day and the annual Flintlock Fair is underway, so Rooster and his ragtag entourage are in festive mood, reminiscing on past festivals, and their sexual exploits with various previous festival Queens. Based on his past successes in beating the council, he is brushing off his impending doom as just another attempt to get rid of him that he will, as usual, manage to avoid. Once a daredevil motorcycle stunt man, until injury put paid to that career, he is now just a legend in his own imagination, and a teller of unbelievable tall tales to enhance his myth.
Brant Eustice is sensational as Rooster, commanding the stage from start to finish in a physically powerful performance and, while others tended to wander a bit with theirs, maintaining a consistent accent throughout. Eustice embraces the complexity of the character, ranging from often black humour, through anger and violence, and to great poignancy. This is one more of his remarkable performances.
Davey Dean, who can see no reason to ever leave Wiltshire, and his pal, Lee Piper, who is about to migrate to Australia, are Rooster's right and left-hand men in his nefarious activities. Oliver Reschke and Benjamin Quirk provide solid support, and are a good double act to boot.
A third man, Ginger Yates, has been there ever since it all started but, contrary to his opinion, he is not really a part of the group, more a tolerated hanger-on. Rooster puts him straight on this near the end of the play. Robert Bell turns in one more of his carefully crafted characterisations.
Two others drop in from time to time, the Professor, who seems to live in a world of his own, dominated by history and great literature, and Wesley, the landlord of a local pub, who has just banned Rooster, meaning that his reputation has been enhanced by now being banned from every single pub in town. Adrian Barnes is perfectly cast in the role of the Professor, occasionally drifting off, or suddenly reciting poetry. Peter Davies injects plenty of fun into the role of Wesley, and makes the most of the comedy available from his outfit when roped into the local Morris team.
Also hanging around are a couple of very young local girls, Pea Gibbons and Tanya Crawley. They emerge a short time into the play, having slept there after the previous night's wild party. Ashley Penney and Harper Robb bring youthful enthusiasm and energy to the roles of the wayward teenagers.
Rooster's ex-girlfriend, Dawn, and their six-year-old son, Marky, visit him because Rooster had promised to take Marky to the fair, but he reneges. Georgia Stockham achieves a good balance between Dawn's continuing affection for Rooster ruling her heart, and common sense ruling her head in recognition of his many faults. Jonathan Pole is the latest member of the Pole family to tread the boards, keeping up the tradition in a delightful and well-focused performance as Marky.
Phaedra Cox, the Queen of the fair, is missing and her stepfather, Troy Whitworth, a local heavy, suspects Rooster of hiding her. Eloise Quinn-Valentine begins the play as Phaedra dressed as a fairy and singing Jerusalem, a cappella, before loud and raucous rock music from Rooster's camp drowns her voice and she runs off in distress. She brings an initial naivety to the role, then neatly reveals a greater depth to the emotional range of her character.
Alan Fitzpatrick presents us with somebody whom you would not want to cross, and definitely not meet up a dark alley, in a strong characterisation. Linda Fawcett and Luke Parsons, the council officials, are determined that, this time, Rooster is finished. Allison Scharber is suitably officious as Linda and Curtis Shipley toadies to her appropriately as her assistant, Luke.
The technical side of the production equals the performance, with an elaborate set that leaves one wondering how they managed to get that caravan into the intimate venue, and very effective lighting. The performance runs like a Swiss watch.
The Guild can be justly proud of this production, but be sure to book quickly, before the rest of the season sells out.