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2011: A New Jerusalem, Madness, Mephistopheles and Magwitch | reviews, news & interviews

2011: A New Jerusalem, Madness, Mephistopheles and Magwitch

2011: A New Jerusalem, Madness, Mephistopheles and Magwitch

Mark Rylance's ongoing tour de force, a trip to the opera and a troubling hitman ruled the year

Lord of misrule: Mark Rylance as Johnny "Rooster" Byron

My highlight was the sudden, last-gasp chance to see Mark Rylance as Johnny Byron in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, on its unexpected return to the West End. A cheap weekday matinee ticket found me in the front row, Rylance looming over me from the high stage, spewing alcohol; an unsteady, limping Lord of Misrule and, if he only could pull himself together, of a new Peasant’s Revolt against the unjust times we’re suffering.

It seemed unbelievable he’d go through the whole thing again that night. Like Dominic West as McNulty in The Wire, I don’t want to spoil the spell by seeing him as anyone else. If every play was like this, it would be a golden age. And the crowds attending them would be a very different mob.

My first ever trip to the opera, for Gounod’s Faust, was almost as memorable. Turning up after an unwise night and two hours sleep for another matinee, I expected to doze from Act 1. Instead, it was hard to discern the downside of Faustian pacts, as René Pape’s Mephistopheles rollicked through belle époque France. I couldn’t hum you a note, but to this impressionable, tired and emotional viewer, opera sometimes seemed the ultimate art.

On my home territory, Ben Wheatley’s Kill List was the film of the year. Post- or maybe pre-Tarantino, it reinvented the hitman thriller as painfully emotional, shockingly violent, deadpan-funny domestic horror. Lars von Trier’s Melancholia almost matched it: an eerie, rambling modern fable about depression and the end of the world, built on Kirsten Dunst’s fierce turn. A final image of Charlotte Gainsbourg as her sister, holding out a protecting human hand as cosmic fate crushes them, was indelible. So was Vanessa Redgrave at full force in Coriolanus, bending Ralph Fiennes’ Roman warrior to her will. In a fine year for British films, Dexter Fletcher’s Wild Bill (seen, like Fiennes’ film, at the London Film Festival) was the crowd-pleasing tale of an unlikely working-class hero.

Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job, the best cinema documentary, was a forensic journalistic j’accuse of the unjailed banker-criminals whose greed we’re all paying for, which made me violently angry. 2011’s other documentary highlight Fire in Babylon by contrast provoked sighs of pleasure, punctuated by sympathetic winces, as the great West Indies cricket team of the 1970s and 1980s rained lethal bouncers on terrorised batsmen.

In music, Josh T Pearson’s gig (pictured right) at Brighton’s Corn Exchange silenced a rowdy Friday night crowd. The Biblically bearded Texan put his whole tortured being on the line, and pinned us to the spot. PJ Harvey’s stately progression through her Mercury-winning LP Let England Shake at the Royal Albert Hall, far superior to the record, and Elbow’s sublime turn at Glastonbury were also memorable. And at Minehead Butlin’s, I booked into my chalet to watch two nights of Madness: a preview of the band’s unrecorded new songs, and a set of superb, bittersweet hits.

Finally came Great Expectations. From Gillian Anderson’s vengeful, spectral young beauty Miss Havisham to Douglas Booth’s Pip, a shallow, blankly handsome, posh mask, the counter-intuitive casting and raw storytelling proved Dickens doesn’t date.

2011 Highlight: Jerusalem.

2011 Letdown: US alternative rock. Kurt Vile, The War On Drugs – most hyped new contenders sounded enervated and derivative.

Prospect for 2012: Wild Bill. Should do for career criminals what The Full Monty did for steel-workers. Charlie Creed-Miles as the Stratford hard man quizzically reconnecting with his kids (in between saloom-bar dust-ups) is wonderful.  

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