Apollo Theatre. May 15, 2022.
I waited 13 years to see this play. I was not disappointed. It’s breathtaking in its audacity and nerve.
Johnny “Rooster” Byron is the archetypal English anti-hero. Gypsy. Drug Dealer. Pied Piper. He lives off-grid in squalor and liquor, pays no taxes, heeds no authority.
He’s revered by teens and the disillusioned. He’s reviled by the establishment.
He’s been served an eviction notice by the local council and has a matter of hours to leave the forest he’s pitched in.But it’s May Day. It’s a magical time in the forest for revellers and recreational druggies.There’s a May Day Queen to crown, fairies to dance with and giants to find.
It’s an astonishing, wild piece of writing from the genius that is Jez Butterworth who’s Mojo and The Ferryman are some of the best storytelling I’ve ever seen on the London stage.
He draws from the fantstical, the mythical, the mystic, from tales of yore, traditions of old. There were shades of A Midsummer Nights Dream of Oberon and Titania and the young lovers lost in the woods. And then it’s more brutal and violent with tones of Falstaff and Mistress Quickly and the band of drunkards in Henry IV parts 1 and 2.
These are the forgotten people; the unloved. They wouldn’t be considered in a Tory budget. They’d be queuing at the local food-bank told to work harder, longer. Earn more. If they vote, they voted for Boris cos he’s a bit of a laugh. They take drugs to escape the banalities of working 12 hour shifts on a production line. They run to Rooster’s caravan in the woods to avoid domestic abuse and broken family trauma. It’s tragic.
The performances are astonishing. I knew they would be. But nothing prepared me for Rylance’s Rooster. The physicality and sheer force of Rooster draws all eyes to him and not simply because of his physical antics. It’s a stand out and he’ll be nominated again for an Olivier (but my vote is still with Bertie Carvel for The 47th)
I was most astonished though by Mackenzie Crook. What a role of the loser-unemployed plasterer-druggie- wannabes DJ. He’s the doubter of all of Rooster’s stories. He questions but his personality is weaker than that of his dealer-mentor and he prefers to play second fiddle. It’s a nuanced, gentle performance that I adored. Best Supporting Olivier for him pls.
13 years have not blunted the sharp poignancy of the message of this play. In fact it’s become more urgent since 2009. England is more divided and more broken. England needs help.
5/5 State of a Broken Nation.