When things go wrong

Saturday 25th July 2009

Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem
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Pirate Dog isn’t allowed into theatres so he can’t speak for himself, but I’m pretty sure that he would take a dim view of things going wrong on stage. We humans, however, do take a delight in unexpected upsets. As Guardian critic Michael Billington writes, “We all love it when things go wrong and the manufactured illusion of theatre breaks down. It offers a reminder that life, too, is full of missed entrances, malfunctioning machines and an endless conflict between order and chaos.” Not only that, but at some productions, the audience is almost as fascinating as the production. Anyone who has seen a black audience at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in full throat will cherish the memory, a real reminder of the liveness of live theatre. Walkouts, catcalls, and other demonstrations of response also give you something to talk about. Mobile phones, rustling sweet packets and aggressive coughing are good moan material. But sometimes things get serious: when I caught up with Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem at the Royal Court earlier this week, I heard a commotion in the middle of the stalls about ten minutes before the end of the play. As Mark Rylance completed his marvellous performance as Rooster onstage, the ushers dragged someone into the aisle. At moments like this, your attention is torn, but I managed to keep my eyes on the stage. After the show, I did notice an ambulance outside. I hope that whoever collapsed has recovered okay. Things going wrong are not always fun.

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