Review: Jerusalem

Mumford and Sons meets Snatch in this lengthy rendition of Jez Butterworth’s modern masterpiece

There’s a bit of a trend at the moment with Oxford student plays – It seems that nearly every director has been drugged into believing what every play needs is a guitar and a voice flitting in between scenes. Unfortunately Jerusalem director Will Felton has also been nurtured from this teet of convention.

That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with the use of music here and there on the stage, as last week’s The Pillowman demonstrated, and that’s not to say that it didn’t at all work in Jerusalem either.

The opening ‘party’ scene’s crashing symbols, floor-rumbling bass and strobe lighting (NB – don’t go to this if you’re epileptic) made for a rowdy start, and most certainly unsettled the poor elderly lady next to me who had come to see her grandson.

What was objectionable, however, was the random smattering of warbling folk tunes that were awkwardly glued onto the end of scenes.

Guitarist, Callum Akass’ rosey-fingered renderings of Bert Jansch songs are nothing to be scoffed at, but in a play that is already long as it is without these little ditties, by 11.15pm most of the audience was in agreement that the music could probably have been side-lined.

Music aside though, the play is a triumph.

How easy it is to have a go at student plays without remembering the fact that on top of learning up to several hundred lines and coming to rehearsals every day, there is also the minor inconvenience of your degree.

Lead role, Barney Fishwick, clearly stole the show with his performance of the marauding Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron, and Cherwell and OxStu will no doubt wax innumerable paragraphs of lyric (and deservedly so) about him in their forthcoming reviews.

But what was most impressive was the ability of each and every character to sustain a consistently high level of energy in a play that is essentially propelled along by amphetamine abuse.

In a story in which not a huge amount happens, it’s a tribute to the calibre of the acting that almost every character will still wander around your mind after you’ve left the show.

And yes the West Country accents do occasionally slip into how you imagine Geronimo or Crazy Horse would have sounded, but Jerusalem abounds with enthusiasm and intensity, doing justice to Jez Butterworth’s modern classic.

The Keble O’Reilly has seen some duds in the past – but this wasn’t one of them.

Tickets to Jerusalem are still available, and the play runs till Saturday 8th November.