Of Jerusalem, I’ve heard ongoing mutters that it’s just far too long. “It’s nearly three hours,” an anonymous festival-goer stated. ‘There’s no way I’m getting through that without having a little nap.” Fair enough. We’re tired, we’re busy, we’ve all got places to be, entirely reasonably priced £3.80 G&T’s to drink and the Scarborough winds to overcome. We don’t have time for long sprawling shows any more. We live in a world of instant gratification. We want quick entertainment on short commutes, and consume theatre the way we consume a packet of salt and vinegar crisps.
More than that, we’re not interested in myth. We don’t have time for mythology. We want fast, glossy, modern, now. And myth is what Jerusalem offers, not just in the words of its characters, but in its execution. The play is a long game, and the pay off is subtle but perfect as Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron becomes the personification of England. The characters who inhabit Rooster’s world turn up uninvited to abuse his land, drawn to the myths he purveys as comfort even more than the drugs he offers. And he accepts them. He tells stories of a giant’s drum and his own virgin birth, mixed in with contemporary tales of Girls Aloud and new TV’s smashed with axes; but these are mythical stories. If there could be any doubt, Rooster even harbours a missing girl in his caravan who is dressed as the most English of mythical creatures: a fairy. “Bollocks,” cries Ginger at Rooster’s tall tales, but with a glint in his eye that says he just can’t turn away. Neither can we. Rooster’s misfits sit and listen even as they laugh in disbelief. They take comfort in Jerusalem. So do we. Things are getting faster every day and we should sit and listen too.
But, as the play shows us, we don’t. The characters eventually cannot protect their man of myth from the new England that desires to wipe him off the map. They’re afraid to. Of course, the world of Rooster isn’t exactly the picturesque idyllic one found in English myth. He lives in a caravan in the woods and takes pride in his occupation as a public health hazard. He deals drugs to teenagers and washes himself in a bucket outside his home. But Rooster’s England is closer to the promises myths hold than the England we have now. He has freedom, and a way of life he can call his own. As grotesque as we may find it, he has an identity. How many of us can say the same about our lifestyle? The comforting myths of jumping daredevils and golden drums are dwindling; the narrative of our society is only getting more sinister. We are not being comforted in the way Rooster, for all his flaws, does for his miscreants. We are being lied to without the myth. Cut more and the private sector, we are told, will suture the wound; but not with fairy dust. Our government is transforming Britain into a profit-hungry, target-driven entity; a world we are often told might even lead to the demise of theatre. His world isn’t the one we want, but neither is the one he’s rebelling against. “FUCK THE NEW ESTATE”, scrawl the characters of Rooster’s world. And we agree. Only we don’t know what we’d replace it with. ‘There’s got to be rules,” says Rooster. But whose? Will we sacrifice myth for the world of the new estate; just because we don’t have the time?
This piece was originally published at http://noff.nsdf.org.uk as part of the National Student Drama Festival