The Edinburgh University Theatre Company brought ‘Jez’ Butterworth’s Jerusalem haring into Bedlam last week. The performance was as hearty as a full roast dinner. The satisfaction of intellectual curiosity mixed with satire and heartfelt wit was a testament to the cast’s interaction with a frankly titanic script. And what a cast.
The undertaking of such an epic, with characters popping on-stage like a fairground whack-a-mole, was as smooth as it was delightful to watch. The superb quality of acting served to highlight that university dramatic performances can and will operate at the top tier of engaging contemporary theatre. The balance of amusing versus thought-provoking moments in Jerusalem was superb, under a veneer of sleepy west-country accents, the drama and comedy were served in equal measure.
I cannot begin to compliment the set design. It would take a separate review entirely to pay tribute to the attention to detail and technical prowess which it took to interact and entertain utilising such a well-made and intricate environment. The Glasto-golden-age, stig-of-the-dump aesthetic, based around a spectacularly utilised camper van, was littered with chicken-wire, cricket bats and broken televisions, a post-rave chaos from which the cast emerged.
Paddy Echlin’s erudite, canny and emotional performance as Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron sets an exceptionally high benchmark throughout, carrying the epic with his charismatic presence on stage. His physicality and dynamism injects a drunken charisma with all the leering gesticulation of a countrified Jack Sparrow. Rufus Love’s ‘Ginger’ complemented Echlin with an endlessly humorous provincial charm, his enthusiasm illuminating a character which he inhabited with natural flair. The accordion wielding ‘Davey’, alongside his comic partner ‘Lee’, are bumbling, flawed and goonishly brought to life by Dominic Sorrell and Tom Hindle, evoking all the sing-song mischievous antics of Shakespearean Mechanicals in the noughties.
The play undoubtedly lacks a strong female presence, and as such the female characters, though more than holding their own as actors, felt a little lost amongst the melee of male characters. This is an issue with the script, but also raises the question of the use in reproducing ‘modern classics’ such as these if not to update them. The Britain of 2009 which inspired Butterworth seems a little nostalgic in 2018, though many of the messages of the play remain pertinent: Englishness, friendship and social liberty. Should the production have paid more attention to making these relevant a decade later?
The pacing was fabulous and despite its ambitious runtime, there was not a slow moment. This is student theatre at its most ambitious, gutsy and elaborate. But one was left with the question: where were all the women?
Image Credit: Callum Pope