The Night Heron

Jez Butterworth

Royal Court Theatre Downstairs

(2002)

Review by Philip Fisher

The Night Heron will provide fuel to the beliefs of anyone that thinks that the Fens are a home for little but inbred religious fanatics. Jez Butterworth's long awaited follow up to his night-club and gangsters tale, Mojo, could hardly be more of a contrast.

Jess and Griffin are a pair of redundant gardeners from a Cambridge College. They share a barn and far too many dark secrets. The play starts with Jess (Karl Johnson) reciting from Genesis. Perhaps inevitably, it is the moment when Adam and Eve fall from grace and introduce wickedness to the world.

The more stable man, Griffin, played by Nil By Mouth star, Ray Winstone, is constantly protective of his slightly feeble-minded friend. He may also be the subconscious source of Jess' fear of an imminent arrival of a disguised Satan. There are also many arrivals on the marshes. An American Night Heron, possibly blown way off course, has attracted numerous birdwatchers. A murderer is on the loose to increase the anxiety of the two men.

In addition, the scary Bolla, just out of prison for an unnamed offence, comes to lodge in the barn. She is played by Jessica Stevenson, voted last year's best comedy actress for her TV performances in Spaced, The Royle Family and Bob & Rose.

The cult of the personality really overtook the audience. It is not every actor that can raise guffaws of laughter merely by walking off a stage. Her acting style is bombastic. She shouts her lines and this illuminates the part of a woman who has spent a long time in solitary confinement failing to be heard. Bolla is surprisingly erudite but not a woman to cross.

Bolla not only needs to reassess her own life but also makes her landlords take stock. They are still rocked by a series of scandals that have left them outcasts not only from gown and town in Cambridge but also in the Fens. As if being drummed out of church and the cubscouts was not shame enough, they can't even remain onside with the weird new religious cult set up by the stuttering, authoritarian Dougal.

Some of the comedy is funny but any deeper allegorical meaning is fairly well hidden. At the end, a young college student appears on the scene, naked, to declaim Shelley. He is possibly the elusive human Night Heron but then Bolla might be too. Director Ian Rickson has cut the final scene from the script which makes the play even more mysterious. This is certainly a good opportunity to see two big screen names but it is not a new Mojo by any means.