Jerusalem By Jez Butterworth
A Review By Phaidra Robinson
For many reasons, I find it difficult to be proud of being British. As I write this, the UK has reached a death toll of over 100,000 people from coronavirus related deaths. This, in my view, is a catastrophic result of a lack of leadership; a highly contagious strain of the virus; and decades of the individual need being seen as more important than the community – just look at some of the comments on kids needing school meals during a massive economic crash and one of the most devastating pandemics in the last 50 years.
Jez Butterworth’s play presents Johnny Byron, a traveller and general rule-breaker, contrasted with those who are hyper-focused on the aesthetics of their village trying to remove him from his home which has been there for longer than any of the new homes. The play pits the individual against the community; which will be the stronger English tradition?
"Jerusalem" follows Johnny the day after a rave with his friends and the aftermath resulting from their parties and the local council trying to move Byron on, as his traveller identity is seen as a threat to the gentrification of the West Country. He identifies not only with his Romantic namesake, but also with the long history of Druids, giants and ley lines that have seemingly been dismissed and forgotten by modern England. Johnny is part of the fringes of society that have been rejected by the majority, accepted only by others who do not identify with the rest of the community – rebellious teenagers, drug addicts, wanderers, and travellers.
The local town is hosting a May Day party, complete with the (sometimes controversial) Morris Dancers and a missing May Day queen. Butterworth portrays these traditions in order to highlight how the town likes to pick and choose the more aesthetic traditions but shun those who are more inclined to connect to nature than reality.
During lockdown, many have been able to reconnect with nature, but we must also face the natural force of the pandemic. Humans may believe we have defeated nature by settling in major cities and expanding and destroying our environment, but the effects of our actions are beginning to fight back. "Jerusalem" poses the question, would reconnecting with our heritage of nature strengthen our bonds to become a more accepting society? Or would that reconnection result in a survival instinct that prizes the individual over the collective?