Jez Butterworth’s play and Mark
Rylance’s central performance have already garnered Critics’ Circle
awards and Olivier nominations following last summer’s run at the Royal
Court. I am delighted to report that both retain all their dramatic,
entertaining and even spiritual power on the play’s West End transfer.
Butterworth’s relocation to the West of England a few years ago has led
to his finding an assured new voice. The metropolitan (and some thought
excessively Pinteresque) rhythms and shapes of his earlier plays have
given way to a language less stylised but no less inventive and vital.
In this tale of “Rooster” Johnny Byron, a drug-dealer and general
ne’er-do-well who lives in a trailer in a Wiltshire wood and has acted
as a magnet for generations of local dissolute youth, Butterworth has
created not just one plum role but a whole treeful, as evidenced by a
supporting cast that includes Mackenzie Crook, Tom Brooke, Alan David
and Gerard Horan. As for the content, the course of one St George’s
village fair-day on which Rooster is about to be evicted by the local
council and constabulary serves as an armature for a seemingly infinite
wealth of allusions and correspondences. Misrule and intoxication have
always been part of folk rituals and traditions, so tripping teens are
no less part of the fabric of England than the builders of Stonehenge.
The streams cross and re-cross: Rooster recounts a tale of meeting a
giant by the A14, and barman Wesley sheepishly performs a Morris dance
in order to secure a wrap of wizz.
Rylance magnificently finds the elemental current running through
Rooster as through the soil on which the character swaggers. He is,
like nature itself, wondrous and terrible by turns or even
simultaneously, and the ugly-beautiful life force that pervades Ian
Rickson’s production seems to proceed from him unto all parts of the
stage, even the live chickens cooped beneath his trailer. It is
tempting to describe it as the role of a lifetime, but one hopes
Rylance finds another such part with which to astound and enthral us.
There is another temptation, to which I will
succumb: a word often seen in
enthusiastic quotations in front of theatres, but one which I cannot
recall ever having used myself. Well, here goes: this play, this
production, this performance are sensational.
Written for the Financial