Johnny Rooster Byron, Jez Butterworth’s outrageous mustachioed, hard-drinking, hard-living waster and the star of his award-winning play Jerusalem, is an actor’s dream role.
And it seems that it doesn’t matter if you’re Mark Rylance on the stage of the Royal Court in London or Dan Clucas appearing at the less royal, and more local, Court Theatre, it’s a part that is unlikely to be bettered in a career.
Jerusalem is Butterworth’s hymn to English eccentricity. It’s a hilarious, in your face, ribald comedy about a one man’s defiance of society and conformity. It’s rude, uncompromising, and hysterically funny throughout.
Byron is the most unlikeliest of heroes. He’s a gipsy and former daredevil stunt rider - until he took one jump too far - and lives a shambolic existence in a broken down old trailer in a Wiltshire wood, dealing drugs to the neighbourhood and getting perpetually smashed. Banned from every pub in town, the Rooster has bedded most of the area’s women, and is a gifted teller of very tall tales.
The play, which ran for three nights at The Court Theatre, last week, was set on St George’s Day as the local townsfolk prepared for their annual fayre.
The 15-year-old beauty queen, daughter of the local gangster, had gone missing, a pair of suits were threatening to evict the miscreant from his home, and Johnny and his friends were recuperating from yet another wild night.
He hobbles over to a rusty water tank for a wake-up wash; downs a revolting cocktail of milk, vodka and a raw egg (well done Dan); takes a line of coke and lights a spliff before being ready to start another day.
And if you thought that Byron was beyond the pale then his friends were just as colourful. The nutty professor (superbly characterised by Andy Faber) who spouted literature and got off his head on LSD; a band of teenagers looking to get high; mates Lee Piper, spending his last night before leaving for Australia, and Davey, the abattoir worker who had never seen the point in leaving the county; and Ginger, his best friend.
And, just as life in rural idylls everywhere had changed out of all recognition, so Johnny Rooster Byron fought to keep his home and way of life.
It was an unparalleled joy from start to finish and was, arguably, one of the best am-dram productions I had ever seen. The Frayed Knot Theatre Company could easily have put the comedy on a professional stage without changing a single moment or cast member.
Mike Code’s Ginger made a wonderful sidekick along with the hapless Lee (Alfie Glasser looking very like Harry Potter’s Rupert Grint) and the deadpan Davey (an equally nonchalant Mike Roebuck).
But Jerusalem really was a showpiece performance by Dan Clucas as Byron and he couldn’t have done it better. It stretched his acting abilities to the limit and he rose to the challenge without flinching.
A final mention to anyone who may have seen the play during its run - no goldfish were hurt during the staging of any performance.