It might be as British as bootstraps, but Jerusalem celebrates something very close to Aussie hearts. New Theatre’s production of the epic play captures the spirit.
Tom Bannerman’s set is the first thing you notice. All corrugated tin and four-be-two, with an assortment of detritus decorating the yard out front. This is Rooster’s domain. Johnny “Rooster” Byron (Nicholas Eadie), that is. He’s quite a character. He lives in what would easily pass, in real estate parlance, as a renovator’s dream. He deals drugs. Hey, it’s a living! A man’s gotta eat. And, more importantly, drink. In fact, Rooster’s idea of a balanced brekky is cocaine and vodka. That ticks two of the food groups, I s’pose. He loves trance music. And he’s a gyppo. As a neighbour, he’s probably your worst nightmare. Which is why the teenagers who live ’round and about love hanging out with Rooster so very much.
Today is St. George’s day, but like and other day for Rooster and his best mate, Ginger (Jeremy Waters). They awake in a faraway corner of georgic Wiltshire. You can almost hear the lambs bleating. Oh, hang on. Those aren’t lambs. They’re council representatives, come calling, banging on Rooster’s door. Unlike most roosters, this one isn’t up at the crack of dawn. It’s not the first time they’ve been ’round. This time, they’re hear to issue a final eviction notice, of which Rooster takes a s little as possible, railing against the housing development that’s going to disturb his reverie. Rooster hardly has time for this, anyway. His ex-wife drops ’round with their son, who he’s s’posed to take to the fair. There’s also another geezer breathing down his neck, none too happy about an apparent liaison between Rooster and his underage daughter, Phaedra, a will- o’-the-wisp and the outgoing May Queen, her virginity in many things probably long since expired. On top of all this, the usual coterie of suspects is hitting him up for advances on drink and, especially, drugs. It’s hard to know who your friends are, or if you even have any, when you’re a supplier who’s generous with credit.
Nicholas Eadie is the quintessential Rooster; at once, hero and anti-hero. In many ways, he’s a surrogate for the playwright, Jez Butterworth, who seems infuriated by the uninvited ‘nurture’ of the nanny state and the encroachment of cookie-cut middle class values in every area of British life. Happily, he vents his anger by means of astringent wit. Rooster is probably one of the best-drawn characters in theatre: in the hands of a decent actor, like Eadie, we take the good with the bad ’cause, for all his flaws, Rooster has a kind of fierce, amoral integrity. Better yet, he’s clearly taken some hard knocks and has his heart in the right place. And he’s a warrior for individuality. He’s a diabolical darling, who now faces perhaps his biggest test, standing up to the man, with his bulldozers and legal clout; a one-man green ban and lone voice of ratbaggery.
Rooster, as the story goes, was a kind of English Evil Knievel in his working life; or what approximated a working life for Rooster. This is but one of the compartments of his life that is subject to exaggeration and we get a clear sense of where the great Australian tall story came from through Butterworth’s buttered-up badinage.
As well as Eadie’s Rooster and Waters’ would-be DJ, Ginger (he’d probably get my ‘man of the match’, if pressed to choose, though it’s a tough call as, for example, Peter McAllum is outstandingly enjoyable as The Professor, a kind of lovechild of Timothy Leary and David Niven), the rest of the cast is uniformly strong, as is the directorial hand of Helen Tonkin. Accents aren’t too shabby, on the whole, either, though Eadie tends to lapse into something close to an Aussie drawl. Again, as well as the protagonists, Bannerman’s grungy, grimy set also stands out as a head-and-shoulders hero.
It might be as British as bootstraps, but Jerusalem celebrates something very close to Aussie hearts, as intrinsically so as mateship, or the ANZAC spirit (though hopefully without the attendant risk of jingoism): the larrikin. Lest we forget. You’ll barely notice three hours pass as you watch one of the best indie productions of the year to date.
The details: Jerusalem plays the New Theatre until September 14. Tickets on the company website.