Jerusalem is a “a fable for a gentrified generation” on the Toronto stage
The Canadian premiere of Jerusalem, written by English writer Jez Butterworth, took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, both on stage and off, to produce. This is apparent from two things. The first is (are) the numerous companies that collaborated to make the Toronto production happen, namely Outside the March, The Company Theatre, and Starvox Entertainment. The second is the immaculately-crafted, unrelenting, coo-coo-bananas-craziness in every moment of this performance.
The play takes place throughout the course of nine hours in the woods of Wiltshire, a county in the south-west of England. In these woods lives Johnny “Rooster” Byron, ex-daredevil and local troublemaker, who is about to be evicted from his caravan so that condos can be built on the land.
Early into the performance, Johnny, played by Canadian gem Kim Coates, wakes himself up by downing a cocktail containing a raw egg, flat beer, vodka, and cocaine. It’s an establishing moment for his character, and also a signal for what to expect out of the play. What we’re in for is hilarious, alluring, and beastly all at once, in a place that feels far away but bites us hard nonetheless. The immersive, sensory experience of this show makes it a fable for a gentrified generation.
Starring as Johnny, Coates’ performance is his first time on stage in nearly three decades. He decides to not mark the occasion quietly, and we are all the better for it. It was difficult at times to not feel mystified, seeing a badass star from a juggernaut series like Sons of Anarchy in the flesh, especially considering his last time performing live theatre was before I was born. But he’s not afraid to show his age in the part, and the life experience he puts behind the role makes him a very believable folk hero. He also doesn’t let his time in film and theatre make him grow complacent: his booming personality fills the room, while still having a sense of intimacy.
Perhaps because of my age, I found myself relating to the ensemble of youngsters who glom onto Johnny as a fatherly figure (but also for the parties and drugs he provides). It’s hard to tell whose eyes we are supposed to see the story through, but with Johnny himself being such a force of nature , my sympathies fell with his wayward band of drunken kids. Philip Riccio, Christo Graham, Peter Fernandes, Katelyn McCulloch and Brenna Coates make a fantastic ensemble. Their banter made for some of the show’s biggest laughs and I found myself truly worried over their plights.
One thing I deeply appreciated about this performance is the effort and authenticity that went into the characters’ accents. The setting is a region and class that is far from the London posh-ness typically associated with the British people. These are not glamorous individuals, and their circumstances are often ugly, but they are still human beings with feelings. For an entire cast to have the discipline and sensitivity necessary to maintain a dialect so specific and hard to master, as well as the culture that comes with it, is nothing short of remarkable.
It is also not coincidence that a play about urban development and class warfare is being performed in Toronto. It’s harrowing to see how often sites of culture and gathering have been eliminated in our city to make way for more monolithic, unoccupied condos. It’s impossible to not feel some empathy for Johnny as he rails against the city officials and their bulldozers trying to oust him from his home.
The companies that collaborated on this show provide us with something relevant to our own circumstances, while still challenging us with unexplored language and some of the most ambitious stagecraft I’ve ever witnessed. Although it’s not pretty, Toronto’s Jerusalem is beautiful.
- Jerusalem is on at the Streetcar Crowsnest (345 Carlaw Ave) until March 10, 2018
- Performances are Monday to Saturday at 7:30pm, with some additional matinees at 1:30pm
- Tickets range from $25 – $65, with student discounts and immersive front row seats reserved for attendees under 30 or working in the arts
- Tickets can be purchased online. As some performances are already sold out, it is strongly suggested to book ahead of time. All sales are final, no refunds will be issued.
- This performance contains strong language, heavy reference to drugs and alcohol, the use of strobe lights, haze, herbal cigarettes, and pyrotechnics. Intended for ages 14 and up.
Image of cast provided by the company