Apollo Theatre, London
Was Peen keen?
Middle to upper-class spectators fill the auditorium. Working class drunken disgraces fill the stage: the statements on class differences are prominent from the very beginning.
It’s an “alcoholic bucolic frolic” on St. Georges Day in Wiltshire – and it makes for a stunning piece of theatre.
The day is presented to us in 3 acts, all 60 minutes long, giving the performance a ‘beginning – middle – end’ feel; it paints the play in a very effective light alongside the rest of Ian Ricksons imaginative direction.
Mark Rylance is Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron, the character whose life the play follows, and gives a world-class performance which is second to none. Johnny Flynn also gives a moving performance and embodies a young man with a 5 year olds behaviour and dialogue with beautiful ease. In addition, the rest of the cast simply compliment both of these, all of whom are on a very similar level and collectively have the audience in absolute awe.
‘Rooster’ has never left the West Country in his 65 years of life, is barred from every pub in the village and has the council on his back trying to evict him from the land he takes over: all combined with the stereotypical accent makes for a hilarious day to witness (where the snobbery laughs at ‘Rooster’, rather than with him).
The play also touches upon some contemporary politics – “it’s thoughts like that that sunk the economy” – and has some very patriotic beliefs – “never seen the point of other countries, when I leave Wiltshire my ears pop” – to create a feeling of unity and ‘proud to be British-ness’, which is very evident amongst the audience as they reminisce with affection as they leave – “quite a noisy start, but I loved it” I heard a middle aged man say to an older lady who might have been his Grandma.
The singing before each act by Aimeé-Ffion Edwards is lovely, and later plays a significant part in ‘Roosters’ life which is immensely difficult to watch; a shockingly polar-opposite scene to the rest of the play. The fact that this production won’t be running for years to come is a massive shame and loss to the West End’s programme, but is a prime example of the incomparable British theatre that can still be found – faultless.