Tom Brooke / Jerusalem
Saturday, 22 August 2009
Always first with the news, ready to give you the best advance tips hot off the press, I’d like to recommend you all hurry along to see a play which is completely sold out and finishes tomorrow. What can I tell you? I’d have mentioned it earlier but I didn’t see it til tonight.
Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, at the Royal Court, is just an incredible thing, wondrous, spellbinding, straight into my top three best nights ever in the theatre. Bear in mind I’m not a massive theatre buff. I love the idea of theatre, I get excited about going, I want to be the kind of person who sees every new play, I find the whole principle of live theatrical performance stylish and beautiful and urgently to be treasured - and then I get in, the curtain goes up and I’m asleep within 20 minutes. Not in this case. I was totally gripped, mesmerized, awestruck for a full three hours, more completely awake than I am anywhere else except the poker table.
I won’t tell you the plot - what’s the point? It’s finishing tomorrow. You can’t go. I’m sorry. I wish I’d gone before. If I had, I would have gone again. I’m posting this for two reasons: one is that I want to write a love letter to Jez Butterworth. This play is epic, magic, Shakespearian, full of tradition yet completely original; the language is so beautiful, the shape so perfect; and I’m so grateful to watch something which trusts its audience to do a bit of the work in their own heads. Most writers succumb to the temptation to spell everything out - bad writers do it because they want to spoon-feed the audience something easy, good writers do it because they’ve thought of something clever and can’t bear the risk that the audience might fail to notice it. This play is brave enough to leave references hanging and ideas suggested, it leaves you to think and imagine in your own space, it’s just so scriptible and the result is something properly challenging and ultimately fulfilling.
And the second reason is that I really do have an advance tip: there’s a young actor in this play called Tom Brooke
who I think is going to do amazing things in his life.
The whole cast is fantastic. Nobody could accuse Mackenzie Crook of being miles out of his comfort zone as the disgruntled scapegoat, but he does it with beautiful subtlety and perfect comic timing. Mark Rylance, in the main part as a drunk Romany stuntman, is just astonishing. He is intensely charismatic, stunning to watch, deeply affecting, funny, terrifying, tragic, in total physical control. But of course he is. He’s Mark Rylance. He’s like that in everything. He shines on the stage like fifteen halogen lights; in this particular role he’s like… he’s like a good Daniel Day Lewis. If you can imagine that. Imagine all Daniel Day Lewis’s dark intensity, determination, star quality, anger, energy, commitment, except not rubbish.
And they’re all good, they’re all good. But this Tom Brooke, I want to keep an eye on him. I actually met him a year or so ago, when the director Raz Shaw asked me to go into the Royal Court to talk to some actors who were “workshopping” a play about gambling addiction. Tom Brooke was one of them and he was immediately noticeable; all the actors (and they were all super-promising young performers) did various pieces of semi-improvised stuff and I found that I kept watching Tom Brooke - he had that quality where you want to keep looking at him to see what he does next. I remembered him for a long time afterwards, and I’m a person who can barely remember my own mother’s name.
I’d guess that in “theatrical circles” Tom Brooke is already very talked about. Maybe he’s already famous and just off my radar? God knows I don’t notice much. But I sort of forgot about him, until he danced onto the stage in this production and I remembered immediately. At the risk of sounding like a judge on the X Factor, he just “has it”. You know how, sometimes, you find yourself watching a play or a film and thinking “There’s nothing to this acting” ? You think, “Oh, anyone can do it, stand there and pretend to be someone”. And then occasionally you see someone who is a radical counter-argument. Like.. you know.. Dustin Hoffman. Tom Brooke is like that. Everything he does with his eyes, his hands, his body, his expressions, his speech, makes you think “I could never do this in a million years”. He’s completely in the zone, transformed into a character, and you don’t want to stop watching him.
So, having irritatingly recommended a play it’s now impossible to see, I will tell you to look out for Tom Brooke. I’m going to try and see things that he is in. I think he’s going to be a star. Not necessarily in the Hollywood sense - he might not want that. But I’m excited to see his future performances, he is going to do brilliant things as an actor and I have decided I’m going to be A Fan.
Am I being too gushy? It was a really inspiring evening. It made me want to write with that much energy and ambition myself. I’ve come away thinking that I want to write a stage play, and I’m going to start with the question: who would Tom Brooke be?