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

Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?