Trigger warnings: child abuse, pedophilia
Following the story of Rooster (Tom Grice), we see an older man leading the group of young adults and children as they fantasize of a life more than their own. With pills, parties and people everywhere, the council of Kennet and Avon open the Jerusalem (by Jez Butterworth) with an eviction notice for (to use his real name) Johnny. The story dabbles in pedophilia, violence and rebellion aimed towards the state. This performance took place in Stage@Leeds on Thursday 3rd of November 2022.
Walking into Stage 1, listening to what can only be described as a playlist derived straight from Bobby’s Disco, Jerusalem production team have transformed the stage into the characters’ countryside hedonistic paradise, Producer Louisa Walsh and AP Becca Burge lay a full grassy field, created a mystical tree from scratch, brought in a caravan (the home of Rooster) and decorated the empty space with such objects as beer cans, a smashed TV and even a disused toilet. It’s safe to say I’ve never seen a more detailed set in student theatre so far, and seeing the way the characters interact with and are so comfortable with the chaos is one of the many brilliant ways in which shows that directors Lucy Yellow and Kate Matthews, alongside AD Eden Vaughn have worked with the actors for this play.
First and foremost, Tom Grice was incredible. How this teenager managed to transform himself to a man in (at earliest) his early 50s is beyond me. Everything from his voice, to his body language to the perfection in his west-country accent. There were few scenes where we see a slightly softer side to Rooster, him as a failing father with his shy son Marky (Lauren Robinson) only to forget this once he is alone with the mother Dawn (Imani Fletcher). Or talking at the Professor (an old man played by Ben Greenwood) through his forgotten grief. This role was made for him. Secondly we meet Ginger, played by the gorgeously spectacular Jess Payne. They were a consistently cartoon butt of the joke. DJ, druggie and wannabe Rooster, they are never found not by his side. From believing his stories of giants and the miraculous things in this forest of his, to being told to ‘shut up’ when they back him up too much. There is little other than explicit and repeated bullying that could make Ginger leave his side. Charlie Crozier played Wesley, a Morris dancing, ethical and committed member to the Kennet and Avon community. This, once again, was brilliantly cast. Wesley demonstrated his beautiful Morris dancing to the outcasts (and of course the audience) for 3 grams of (assumedly) coke. Not only this, but Wesley was the only member of the community to face Rooster with the whispers of child abuse that had been hovering over the community. Ending the first act with a sinister silence between the two with regards to a missing 15 year old girl gave me ‘squirrels’ in my stomach.
Later, we meet this girl’s father, Troy Whitworth. With a hunched back and a grim amount of anger Rory O’Dwyer plays this character. Accusations fly from Rooster about his potential abuse towards his own missing daughter, and he hurls them right back. O’Dwyer has a gait that could give anyone chills, and warns all Rooster’s posse about consequences if anything has happened to his child.
It is only as the show ends that we discover 15-year old girl Phaedra (played by the childish but dark Hannah Whiteway) has been secretly living with Rooster, whilst the town search for and worry about her. Dressed in her pretty pink fairy outfit, suitable only for the May Queen herself, Whiteway opens the second act to her beautifully sung performance of Dransfield’s warewolf, a folk song of lust and assault.
In and amongst these underbelly ideas of manipulation and cult-like behaviour, this play brings about some pretty beautiful scenes. Lighting blue and red behind the caravan and trees shows a full episode of Morris dancing from all the cast, taught by Leeds wider community of Morris Men and the Folk and Thackary Sage Morris Society. A rare wonderful way of seeing the cast initially interact with one another, a theme directed throughout the whole play. From Lee (Angus Bell) cracking up the clique of young people with a typo-d shirt, to Davey (Malachy O’Callaghan) and best friends Tanya (Scarlett Allen) and Pea (Tamsin Rodliffe) creating an atmosphere of distorted familial relationships this play really does create a Jerusalem-esk haven for them all to ‘hang’ in. It's clear that all have put in their two pence to imagining this world. Only for Ms Fawcett and Mr Parsons (representatives of Kennet and Avon, Lexi Prosser and Siobhan Ward) to tear it down.
Jerusalem, written by Jez Butterworth, Directed by Lucy Yellow and Kate Matthews and Produced by Leeds University’s Theatre Group is being performed on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of November in Stage @ Leeds. You can get tickets here.
I highly recommend it, Kate and Lucy have done an excellent job. The director’s notes enclosed in the show’s programme show only a slither of the passion and pride going into this show.