Mark Rylance gives a mesmerizing performance as a local outlaw in Jez Butterworth's sprawling new play.
Here, he regularly throws wild, thumping parties, pays no tax, and deals drugs to the locals. Around this modern Pied Piper gathers a small tribe of lost boys and girls:: Ginger (Mackenzie Crook), who longs to be a DJ; Lee (Tom Brooke), who has bigger, if not altogether clearer, plans and a ticket to Australia in his pocket; Davey (Danny Kirane) a chubby blonde slaughterhouse worker who sweats at the thought of ever leaving Wiltshire; a doddering Professor (Alan David) whose grasp on the past is stronger than that on the present; and two teenage girls, Pea and Tanya (Jessica Barden and Charlotte Mills).
Others are less pleased by Byron's activities and the council have slapped a 24-hour eviction notice on the door of his trailer. They want him gone because a new estate is being built on nearby land. The local hard man, Troy Whitworth, is also looking for him because his daughter has gone missing and he suspects Byron knows where she's hiding.
Ian Rickson's production opens with a young girl singing William Blake's hymn in front of St George's cross and ideas of England and Englishness permeate the play. There is talk of ley-lines and giants, old gods, and standing stones. Moreover Jerusalem takes place on St George's day, which is marked by the Flintock village fair, an annual event combing ceremonies of old with candyfloss and a car-park disco.
Rylance is both captivating and repellent as Byron, a former daredevil stunt rider, twin-skilled at self-mythologizing and getting himself barred from local pubs for various unsavoury acts. For all his tall tales and his nimble way with words, there is a sense that much of what he says and does is a shield. There is darkness and damage behind his eyes. Butterworth's writing and Rylance's performance combine to peel back the layers of a man who lets kids snort coke from his table and who gets so drunk he sometimes falls over in the street and urinates on himself.