The Royal Court Theatre presents
The Night Heron ( Archived )
By Jez Butterworth
11 April - 18 May 2002
Jerwood Theatre Downstairs
Director Ian Rickson
Pictured (L to R): Paul Ritter, Karl Johnson, Ray Winstone; Jessica Stevenson, Ray Winstone, Karl Johnson, Finlay Robertson; Ray Winstone
Photography by Ivan Kyncl
Director: Ian Rickson, Designer: Ultz, Lighting Designer: Mick Hughe,s Sound Designer: Paul Arditti, Composer: Stephen Warbeck. Cast: Geoffrey Church, Karl Johnson, Roger Morlidge, Paul Ritter, Finlay Robertson, Jessica Stevenson, Ray Winstone
‘.It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s haunting and it is also strangely beautiful. Best of all, it is quite unlike anything you have seen before.
‘The action is set deep in the Fens. Here, in a wooden cabin among the marshlands, live Jess Wattmore and his friend Griffin. Both used to be gardeners at Corpus Christi college, Cambridge, both have now been sacked and are eking out a living on the dole.
‘To help make ends meet, they take in a lodger, a gruff, fat, female ex-con called Bolla who has recently been released from Holloway. In an attempt to ease their financial crisis, Griffin decides to enter a poetry competition for the £2,000 prize, the only problem being that his poem is no good. Bolla’s resourceful answer is to kidnap an undergraduate at a Cambridge poetry society meeting, knock him out with Tamazipan bundle him into the boot of her VW Golf and bring him back to the cabin. There he can write a poem for them.
‘But this marvellously entertaining comic caper represents only one side of the story. Like the mysterious fens on a darkening January afternoon, The Night Heron is also shot through with both oppressive gloom and sudden glimpses of the numinous.
‘Jess has got himself involved in a mad cult religion, and was drummed out as Balloo of the local Cub pack for claiming that one of the children was Satan’s son. He is also accused of sexually abusing the head gardener’s young boy. The town is out to get him – have indeed already beaten him up – and he is also being blackmailed. The more down-to-earth Griffin (whose relationship with Jess has nothing to do with sex) believes in his friend’s innocence and is determined to save him.
‘Butterworth weaves together his complex narrative, and moods which range from the absurdly humorous to the downright apocalyptic, with beguiling skill. The characterisation is deftly comic, the dialogue fizzes with wit, yet there is depth and stage poetry here too. The Night Heron is haunted by images of both the Fall of Man (it is no coincidence that Jess and Griffin have been exiled from their own garden of innocence) and the Last Judgement. Will our strange, but strangely lovable middle-aged heroes, achieve a redemption of their own?
‘Ian Rickson’s beautifully judged production, with a fine claustrophobic design by Ultz, gets full value from this rich and original play. Karl Johnson is wonderfully weird, wounded and barking as Jess, Ray Winstone deeply sympathetic and hugely funny as his friend. There is outstanding comic playing too from Jessica Stevenson as the bolshie jailbird, and from Paul Ritter as a deliciously gormless special constable. I just hope we don’t have to wait another seven years for Butterworth’s third play.’
‘ You can see several influences at work on this weird play: among them Britten’s Peter Grimes and Rudkin’s Afore Night Come, which both deal with victimisation of the outsider. That in itself is fine and Butterworth both writes eccentrically funny dialogue and ceates a memorable character in Bolla, who is superbly played by Jessica. She recites Marvell’s The Garden and menaces a special constable with equal power. Stevenson is at her hilarious best explaining how Bolla’s loathing of students stems from the fact that her mother was a bedder who had to clear away a toff’s rubber johnnies while “he was busy off somewhere singing in Latin”.’
‘This distinctive, funny, puzzling new play is the second by Jez Butterworth, whose first, Mojo, made him an overnight hot property seven years ago.
‘the acting is a joy. No one is stiller or mightier on stage than Ray Winstone. Stevenson, too, hits the black cartoon stridency of Butterworth’s writing at full tilt.’
‘This play is rich with poetic tension between communities and outsiders. Little of note happens in the first half, instead conversations with the brutally humourless Bolla (a hilarious Jessica Stevenson) establish that Wattmore and Griffin have been ostracised by the town, with Wattmore the subject of rumour and blackmail.
‘As the second half descends into nicely handled farce, Butterworth never lets us forget we are watching something essentially tragic: all three main characters are damaged, yet eager to do good, at least by each other, with Wattmore in particular agonised by the conflict between a guilty secret and his religious fanaticism.
‘With gardens symbolising throughout an innocent paradise beyond reach, this is an allusive rather than a dramatically coherent piece of writing, but one beautifully honoured in Ian Rickson’s sensitive production by an excellent cast.’
‘Jez Butterworth’s dark, funny, spellbinding play has a story, sort of, but it works like poetry. Images and themes echo each other like music. The setting is East Anglia, not that far from Crabbe’s (and Britten’s) Peter Grimes. Jess and Griffin (Karl Johns, Ray Winstone) were once gardeners at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, but were sacked – expelled from the garden. Could Jess be a child molester? Everyone is in some sense an outcast, secretive, out of place, like the exotic bird of the title, which turns up in the marshes. The writing is blunt, ribald, allusive; Ian Rickson’s direction is thrilling and sensitive. A beautiful, haunting play.’
JERWOOD THEATRE DOWNSTAIRS
THE NIGHT HERON