A raucous layabout, four drunk teenagers and a goldfish rendezvous around a caravan on St Georges Day. All hell breaks loose in Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron’s bid to save his Jerusalem from the council officials.

“It smells like Christmas!” murmurs an audience member as we file around the stage. Peter Bradley has created a forest set so authentic that a woodland scent fills the theatre. With half the audience seated on a motley collection of cushions, the audience are literally drawn into the campfire setting.

A fairy wanders this magical set, wistfully humming Jerusalem. A door slams and partying teenagers erupt onto the stage in an explosion of dubstep and strobe lights scaring the pants off the audience and fairy alike. From start to finish this production is spellbinding and disruptive in equal measures.

The morning after. A grubby lout emerges from the caravan, pours himself a milk-and-vodka then takes a casual leak against the caravan. Meet the ‘Rooster’, complete with ear-flaps hat. Simon Peal makes this production, enlivening every moment with volatile and vivacious performance. His tongue-in-cheek, unabashed dialogue with the other characters sets the performance’s darkly humorous tone.

The supporting cast also shine in this production, bringing energy and satire to comical interactions with the notorious Rooster. Despite representing the absolute dregs of society the characters are oddly likeable; Tanya (Emma McDonald) and Davey (Edward Colwell) create especially relatable characters. However as the play progresses the humorous overcoat is peeled back and the characters are reminded that any secret worth keeping doesn’t stay a secret.

The blithe teenagers enjoy an uninhibited freedom in Rooster’s forest but there are dark undertones to Rooster’s anarchistic Jerusalem. Rooster defends his shady dealings with the teenagers claiming that they are safer getting extraordinarily drunk in his caravan than they are at home. It’s also heavily implied that ‘fairy’ Phaedra (Jenny Kohnhorst) is sexually abused by her stepfather.

The authenticity of this production brings Bradley’s social critique right home. Is Rooster’s Jerusalem more comparable to England’s ‘green and pleasant land’ than Lord Byron’s vision? This is brought to a head in Bradley’s poignant and disquieting ending with Peal holding the audience utterly entranced in his deeply effective epilogue.

Jerusalem is everything a student production should be: raw talent, entertaining and unsettling. All the right elements are there; the elusive ‘fairy’ provides the perfect hook, and the genuine hilarity is complemented with intellectual undertones. The performance never bores nor patronises. Peter Bradley has created a performance that truly rewards the audience.

Jenna Hutber

See Jerusalem at The Nottingham New Theatre until Saturday 8th December. Contact [email protected] for tickets. 

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