Jerusalem (Link to the show’s page).
On Tuesday night Olivia’s family very generously took me to London, to dinner, and to see Jerusalem! It appears, although I know nothing about theatre trends, that this show is the new ‘play to see’ in London. It did not win the Olivier for best new show but it came close and the ticket is hot. What caught my attention most about the writing by Jez Butterworth was the fact that his main character, a drug-dealing alcoholic, slowly becomes not just beloved but mythological. I know, just take my word for it.
When Levi Straus wrote his famous philosophy of myths he identified a set pattern; all myths, assuage fundamental, buried but central contradictions about human life. Oedipal myths, for example, provide a model for the contradiction between the theory that humans are autochthonous and the reality that one man comes from two people. Further, the contradiction between individual man and his body from another similar (or same?) human is present in the myth.
There is a point to all that crazy theory! I’ll admit that Levi-Straus is a bit nuts. Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother all to prove that his body is a separate entity from that which created it? Fine. The more important idea is that myths are a way to talk about contradictions that are too entrenched and too problematic to be addressed any other way. Think about children making up stories to talk about real things that trouble them–think Pan’s Labyrinth. Jerusalem packs loads of myth into one character and one stage. The most prominent are myths about the main character; he has a drum supposedly from giants, he has eyes that can show people the truth of their inner character, and after other characters leave him beaten and bloody outside his trailer Johnny says to his young son, “I’ve got rare blood. Rarest there is. Romany blood. All Byrons have got it. I’ve got it and you’ve got it too.” But beside giant-knowing Johnny with his indestructible and valuable blood there are other fantastical elements like an old professor’s story about a knight and a dragon and a village where all the children and the poor are fed to the flame of the dragon. Disturbing. And, of course, the central presence in the play, the missing 16-year-old beauty queen dressed as a fairy, fleeing reality and what we assume is an abusive father. This is all very complicated to explain so again I’ll get back to the important point. The play uses stories and magic to help the audience come to grips with essential problems, most prominent of which is at the center of the stage: a good man who provides a ‘haven’ for lost children who can’t go home but who also provides them with addictive drugs.
I don’t know what has sent me off on this track but I don’t actually believe it’s too unrelated to the food and travel writing I’ve done so far. When someone reads about travel or decides to travel it is a fantasy dependant act. Traveling is hard and smelly and confusing unless you happen to be a wealthy elite and visit “luxury” rather than a country. Travel forces you to see hard things, prostitutes in Thailand, poverty in India, or sometimes on a less global level, just the bad things in your own brain. There is, after all, a lot of alone contemplation time! Despite all of this, to be traveling is the most romantic of states. It’s bohemian, cultured, and brave, it melds with all sorts of myths. While traveling you have moments of feeling mythological and unstoppable; you successfully work out trains in another language, defiantly dine alone, have a moment of complete and utter joy that feels impossibly perfect, almost divine, just from looking out the window of the car in Cornwall or stepping out into throngs on a London street. Small seconds or odd happenings that feel like life’s most important moments of awareness. What lovely examples of contradiction.
And here, for all that hard work of reading through my dense probably nonsensical post, some pictures of my own few month’s mythological moments: