There's scarcely a medium through which the poet Simon Armitage's work has not been projected. In the theatre, however, his new play Jerusalem finds him struggling. It's not so far removed in content from Emmerdale and, though apparently inspired by Blake's "green and pleasant land", owes more to Dylan Thomas's play for voices Under Milk Wood. Physical characterisation ruptures into caricature, and comedy is served up as pub banter, while a series of musical spots prompts unfavourable comparisons between Jerusalem and Potter-land's Singing Detective.
In fact, an undercover detective - posing as a census-taker - introduces us, in a contrived way, to the dreams, secrets, customs and eccentricities of this tight-knit community, over which the disabled former firefighter John Edward Castle, now a local radio DJ, has a bird's-eye view. On a long oblong stage, shimmer curtain at one end, Castle's bedroom castle in the air at the other, "the tide rises and the tide falls" for the residents of this backwater Yorkshire town, Jerusalem.
A fractured family, its rift widening as Castle's son tries to escape the blistering criticism of his father, is threatened by the arrival back in Jerusalem of ex-PC Spoon. Now it's Castle's wife who's tempted by escape - with Spoon, her ex-lover. With a dinky little van, whizzing door frames and tiny scenarios glimpsed on a conveyor belt, Laura Hopkins has created a versatile setting, making the minimalist most of Armitage's rural picture. It's definitely not paradise.
The seven actors capture a remarkable variety of speaking and singing styles, pitching themselves into this microcosm of humanity with gusto. Brigit Forsyth is stalwart, though scarcely affecting, as Castle's wife, while Geoff Leesley - Castle himself - rules boorishly. As Castle's son Wesley, Lee Warburton hints at hidden depths while Joe Alessi, an engaging narrator, makes a deliciously camp committee official.
Director John Tiffany's production warms up in the second half as 5th November approaches and the fireworks surrounding the election of the village's Entertainment Secretary become noisier. But the drama turns out to be a damp squib, and it's hard to care what happens. The narrative thread is so thin that it's too easily snapped by the musical episodes, while the confused subplot of stolen animals, mysterious bungs and whether or not Wesley Castle is gay, becomes tedious.
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