Here's what you probably know already:
- Jerusalem's about a bloke, called Johnny "Rooster" Byron, who lives in a trailer in a wood, on the edge of a new housing estate. An alcoholic drug-dealing Pied Piper, he's got a gang of kids who like to hang around him, getting into mischief. It's St George's Day, the day of the Flintock Fair in Wiltshire, and Johnny's up for eviction. (Which makes it sound crap at best, and like Big Brother at worst. Trust us, it's neither.)
- It's more than three hours long, with not one, but two intervals. (But actually seems to fly by.)
- Jerusalem's won best new play twice now; it's up for an Olivier in March. (And we reckon it could win.)
- As Johnny Byron, Mark Rylance has garnered massive, universal praise from the critics, and won two Best Actor awards; he's also up for an Olivier. (Again, he could well win.)
And here are a few things you might not know:
- The set features real trees (well done, Mr Ultz); animals on stage include chickens, a weeing tortoise, and a goldfish. (Take that, Legally "two dogs" Blonde.)
- Older people in the audience will hoot with laughter every time there are uses of certain bad language. Which happens lots. (Which reminds us of a time we, aged about 25, announced to a group of 30-40yr olds that we "didn't really think the word cunt has the power to shock anymore." And learnt from the horrified silence that it did.)
- When the writing's this slick, listening to a group of hungover mates talk druggy nonsense about a party you didn't even go to is really, really funny
- You'll never hear a more hypnotic story about a giant on the A14 than the one Johnny spins to his mates, addressing a perfectly placed cigarette lighter.
In short: we were utterly blown away this production.
Jerusalem is a mess of incredible juxtapositions; ugly beauty, slow energy, the compelling anti-hero loner and his pitch-perfect ensemble of acolytes, violence and innocence, badger poo and May queens, tradition and irreverence (like Gerard Horan's pub-running Morris Dancer, after a bit of coke to get him through the busy evening). There's so much going on, it's almost impossible to describe just. how. good. it. is.
So, we'll leave you two other opinions. One friend, who rarely goes to the theatre, immediately said he wanted to go more often if it was always this good. The other, who watches two or three shows a week says it was the best play she saw in the whole of 2009. We'll go one further: we think Jerusalem, and Mark Rylance's performance in particular, might be one of the best things you'll *ever* see in the West End.
Jerusalem is currently booking at the Apollo Theatre until 24 April. Tickets from £30.