Jerusalem review: Mark Rylance still shines as juicy Johnny 'Rooster' Byron
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Mark Rylance still shines as juicy Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron in the thrillingly well-written and almost magical Jerusalem

Jerusalem

Apollo Theatre, London                                         Until August 7, 3hrs 10mins

Rating:

The Corn Is Green

Lyttelton, National Theatre                                     Until June 11, 2hrs 35mins

Rating:

Mark Rylance first appeared in this play in 2009. He’s become a Hollywood film star in the meantime but, since Jerusalem, he’s had no juicier part.

Now he’s back and barely ever off stage as Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron, who lives in a trailer, partying and purveying cannabis, ‘wizz’ and booze to the local kids.

He is well known – and not in a fond way – to the South Wiltshire Constabulary and to local parents. He’s also in complete denial about being evicted.

Mark Rylance (above) is back and barely ever off stage as Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron, who lives in a trailer, partying and purveying cannabis, ‘wizz’ and booze to the local kids

Mark Rylance (above) is back and barely ever off stage as Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron, who lives in a trailer, partying and purveying cannabis, ‘wizz’ and booze to the local kids

This dodgy charmer is a glorious creation. Being longer in the tooth means Rylance now brings a note of mortality behind the twinkle.

New plays today are like healthy, vegan drinks. Jez Butterworth’s creation is super-strength cider chased with budget vodka.

It’s thrillingly well written and lets the magic rip in Byron’s massively tall stories: like the one about the giant he once met near a Little Chef on the A14 who built Stonehenge; or the four Nigerian traffic wardens who kidnapped him in Marlborough.

Yet Byron is not bluffing when he claims indigenous, ancestral English rights to the woods – a controversial theme that, post-Brexit, now has an extra edge.

The evening has the feel of a reunion party: Mackenzie Crook (fantastic) reprises his role as Johnny’s failed DJ mate, Ginger. Also returning is Alan David as the nutty professor and Gerard Horan as the humiliated morris-dancing publican.

Ian Rickson’s direction judges the comedy perfectly and the leafy glade of a set (with real trees) is a design triumph by Ultz.

As the forces of Rooster Byron’s heart-rending destruction gather in the woods, he invokes, in an unforgettable finale, the sleeping gods and giants of English mythology. I found myself rooting for him with my life.

The Corn Is Green dates from 1938.

A neglected gem, it here stars Nicola Walker (off the leash from BBC1’s The Split) as a bustling, forthright, unmarried Englishwoman who goes to the Welsh Valleys and makes it her mission to get a gifted young miner (Iwan Davies) out of the pit and into Oxford University.

A neglected gem, The Corn Is Green stars Nicola Walker (above, and off the leash from BBC1's The Split) as a forthright, unmarried Englishwoman who goes to the Welsh Valleys

A neglected gem, The Corn Is Green stars Nicola Walker (above, and off the leash from BBC1’s The Split) as a forthright, unmarried Englishwoman who goes to the Welsh Valleys

Dominic Cooke’s amusing, lively direction invents a role for the play’s author, Emlyn Williams (Gareth David-Lloyd), and adds a chorus of singing miners.

A bright, humane entertainment, and rather humbling, too, especially if you’ve ever taken your education for granted.

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