Jerusalem, Royal Court Downstairs, London
The Apple Cart, Theatre Royal, Bath
Bassline, Barbican Centre Car Park, London

The Theatre Downstairs has turned into a wooded dell. Leafy trees arc over the stage and a girl in a satin slip stands by a recently axed trunk, quietly singing William Blake's "Jerusalem", as if it's a mournful folksong: "And did those feet in ancient time ...".

Throbbing rock music drowns her out, blasting from a ramshackle silver caravan. A modern-day bacchanal is suddenly in full swing: a mêlée of hooded youths dance around like raving lunatics.

Just as abruptly, it's the morning after and everyone has vanished, except a pair of po-faced County Court officials, clutching clipboards. They stare at the festive wreckage and slap an eviction order on the door.

Time is running out for Mark Rylance's Johnny in Jez Butterworth's new, weird and rather wonderful, disaffected English pastoral, Jerusalem, directed by Ian Rickson. Johnny is an ageing, drug-dealing "gypo" who used to be a daredevil biker and hero at the local fairs. He has lived in this wood for years, but he's now becoming a bête noir: an annoyance to a neighbouring new estate when he goes on his wild benders. He might even be seriously dangerous.

Primarily, Jerusalem is a very funny comedy about rustic wasters. Rylance lurches out of his caravan like an addled clown – or a tattooed, hung-over hobgoblin – his pelvis still gyrating, spliffs sprouting from his boots. With a touch of the warlock, the Pied Piper and Peer Gynt, he draws idling lads, young lasses and nutters to his den. He sells them whizz and spins delirious impish yarns about how he was born in a black cape, with a bullet between his teeth, or how he once chatted with a passing giant, just off the A14.

Rylance's comic timing is a delight. He just steers clear of milking his gags as he oscillates between macho swagger and nervy mumbling. Mackenzie Crook flails amusingly as well, as his spindly sidekick, Ginger, alongside Alan David as a batty old professor, and Tom Brooke who plays a sweetly gormless teen. Rylance also has startling tenderness, and volcanic rage at the law-enforcing Goliaths who threaten to raze his home.

Butterworth's script is rambling at points, and the cast's West Country accents could be pinned down better. But the surreal digressions and the moments of cursing black magic – tapping into age-old superstitions – are terrifically bold. The way treachery and sinister brutality lurk in the shadows is gripping too. The adolescent girl we glimpsed singing at the start has, we glean, been missing for a week, and her abusive step-dad wants retribution, or a scapegoat.

If Jerusalem is a darkening contemporary vision of England's green and pleasant land, The Apple Cart is a period piece/prophecy about our nation. That is to say, George Bernard Shaw wrote this rarely revived political satire in 1928, but set it "in the future".

The programme notes accompanying Peter Hall's production – in his Bath summer rep season – proclaim that line after line might have been written yesterday. Truth be told, though, this piece isn't astoundingly topical, and Hall's staging doesn't attempt to look up-to-the-minute.

As Shaw's fictional British PM gathers with his ministers at King Magnus's palace, His Majesty's private secretaries are perched at their desks with Bakelite phones. Barry Stanton's Boanerges, a union leader and new cabinet member, strides in dressed like a Russian revolutionary. Then, in a tweedy three-piece suit, the Prime Minister (James Laurenson) brandishes an ultimatum for the King to sign, insisting the monarch give up his political powers of veto.

Shaw was sharply prescient in some respects. He sardonically anticipated, here, the reduction of Britain to America's lapdog, and the rise of huge corporations, slipping politicians into their gold-lined pockets. But, in truth, the main reverberations are with the distant past, with the constitutional crisis looking like a variation on the Magna Carta, and with Magnus directly echoing Shakespeare's history plays.

The Apple Cart is a minor curio, yet it's enjoyable to see it given this airing by a perky ensemble. Charles Edwards's debonair Magnus is an entertainingly canny royal, keeping Janie Dee as his slinky mistress on the side.

For Bassline, the focus narrows from big political debates about this sceptre'd isle, zooming in on east London today – indeed, more precisely, on the inner-city neighbourhood immediately surrounding the Barbican Centre. Graeme Miller's promenade piece (for BITE:09) is a multimedia installation rather than theatre, strictly speaking. But wend your way down into the subterranean bowels of Car Park No 5 and you find yourself in a strangely haunted kind of art gallery, accompanied by a stately Purcell-inspired ground bass, somewhere in the distance. A line of translucent banners stretches away into the darkness, shimmering with monochrome photographs of the nearby streets and estates. Victorian alleys and faceless tower blocks are endowed with a silvery, melancholy beauty as you wander though this ethereal world, chasing time-lapse images of strangers vanishing round corners.

The snippets of local people's voices – recording their impressions of the area – may seem frustratingly fragmentary. Go with the flow, though, and Bassline captures both the transience of city life and a sense of ghostly, layered history.



'Jerusalem' (020-7565 5000) to 15 Aug; 'The Apple Cart' (01225 448844) to 1 Aug; 'Bassline' (0845 120 7550) to 26 Jul

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent