Venue: The Drama Barn
Director Jessie Nixon, along with assistant director Matthew Edwards, have picked a good time of year to put on a production of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem. St George’s day may have been a few months ago now, but with the university year coming to a close a play about coming into summer and moving on (or not) feels appropriate. Generally speaking the production came together well, but the question remains as to whether the productions faults distract from its charm.
The play opens with two brief scenes, purposefully set against one another: the first features a young girl singing Jerusalem, and the second breaks suddenly into a rave outside a caravan, which we will later find belongs to the play’s central maverick Rooster. The purpose of this contrast is clear, the audience are supposed to get the impression that something sinister is going on, before being distracted and pulled into the action of the play through the entertaining experience of being a sober person watching the cast apparently completely out of it. In this case, however, they didn’t quite pull it off and instead left the impression of being sober while watching a group of sober people pretend not be, which isn’t quite as appealing.
As a whole the performances of the cast were admirable, but not without fault. Jared More, who played Rooster, managed to hold an appropriate presence over the stage and the rest of the cast; simultaneously threatening and entertaining. His performance did not, however, manage to capture the full potential of the more abstract and spiritual themes that the script seemed to want addressed. Regardless of whether More intended his portrayal of Rooster to err on the side of unhinged lowlife who has overstayed his welcome (he is named after a cock after all), I can’t help but feel that the production could have benefited from a more existential performance. Elsewhere the performances, particularly from Rooster’s cohort, were consistently entertaining. Kell Chambers as Davey had a few seemingly improvised interjections which added some life to the production. Sam Hill and Evie Jones’ portrayals of council officials, however, were less consistently compelling, relying too heavily on caricatured representations of their characters. This is not to completely damn either of their performances, in both cases their second characters (Troy and Dawn respectively) were well delivered, it’s just in their more explicitly comic roles that they were not entirely successful.
Accents were, almost completely across the board, a problem for the production. All too often accents from London and the South East would slip out mid-sentence, and even when successful the actors seemed to be targeting something closer to Somerset or Devon than Wiltshire. Normally a few dodgy accents are not quite so distracting (particularly for a Student production), but when a play is so concerned with locality it becomes more difficult; you cannot have one character talking about how he is scared of leaving Wiltshire when everyone around him sounds like they may never have actually been there.
The set and costume, on the other hand, were very well put together. The floor of the Drama Barn was covered with muddy turf, dirty glasses and discarded tins. The back of the set was marked off by a single side of a caravan, and a beat up sofa a rug sat in the middle of the grass. The result was that the space could be both internal and external: while it doesn’t literally represent the inside of the caravan, it allows an intimacy that might have been lost if the production felt like it took place in a field. It’s also always nice to see a cast actually drinking and smoking on set; lighting up rollies (or convincing fakes at least) and cracking open cans of Strongbow.
This production of Jerusalem was not without fault. It was, however, an entertaining three hours of theatre and, setting aside the accents, full of convincing performances.