Hail, Rylance, king of the world


A few weeks late, yes, but how glad I am to note that Mark Rylance won an award for his lead role in Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem. Much has been written of Rylance’s performance – mercurial, immersive, astounding – and I gotta say it is all that and more. I am not entirely rational when it comes to the Rylance, but he really is sensational. I’ve never seen a performance like it.

Bit of background (both of me and the play): the play is set in Wiltshire, somewhere near Salisbury, sort of Devizes/Upavon way. An old (presumably centuries-old) village is being developed rapidly – dreary new estates granted planning permission without aesthetic or sympathy – and the ancient woodlands felled by a rising tide of ugliness. Prissy officialdom, however, is brought up short by a drug-dealing layabout (Rylance), a thorn in the side of the new estate. He lives in a squalid caravan, supplying local kids with grubby drugs and limitless booze.

But Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron is more than just a neighbour from hell. He is both insider and outsider, a guardian of the woods, a protector of youth, a connection to a more ancient history, mystical, wise, wild, unreliable, a spinner of yarns. A holder of secrets, a blower-open of hypocrisy, a truth teller and a liar – and hypnotically irresistible to women.

I’m from that part of the country, and I know the people who drift up to Rooster’s caravan for summer-night parties. I went to school with them. I know the hang-dog publican, the girls who will leave the village, the boys who won’t and the local thugs. The fresh-faced American boys in front of me were horrified, poor lambs. I think watching English people shouting cunt at each other, while we all roared with laughter might have melted some circuits. Hey, Dorothy: you’re not in Kansas any more.

I once ran after Mark Rylance, bouncing across Haymarket and catching up with him on a traffic island. He was on his way to the Comedy Theatre where he was in Boeing Boeing, which I’d seen a couple of weeks earlier. He twinkled as I blushed and gushed (‘You were, uh, just so great’) and spent a minute or two saying how glad he was I’d enjoyed the play while I got the flutters under control. Just as well. I was so flustered, if he’d brushed me off I’d have gone under a bus.

Mark Rylance: actor, director and lovely, lovely man.


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