The Night Heron
Jez Butterworth’s second play is a dark drama about blackmail, salvation, murder and abuse, which is complicated to follow and yet intrigues throughout.
Jess sits in his isolated cabin recording the Bible onto cassette from memory. Griffin, who shares the cabin, spends most of his time trying to catch rabbits on the ferns. These two have both recently lost their jobs as gardeners at Corpus Christi College following a scandal in which Jess, in a religious frenzy, accuses an eight year old boy scout of being in league with the Prince of Darkness.
The play abounds in religious symbolism that dominates the drama. A large black and white paper frieze of Christ sitting in judgement surrounded by his saints is pinned to the back wall of the cabin. A rare bird, “The Night Heron” is reportedly seen in the location and bird watchers begin to gather from around the world to capture a glance of this extraordinary creature. And a religious cult is gathering around a man who proclaims himself to be Michael the Prince of Angels.
Jess is feeling suicidal after being accused of a great ‘evil’. A father is seeking £1000 in recompense for what has happened to his boy and lets Griffin know that unless he is paid he will inform the local paper. This means that the religious sect that Jess belongs to will hear about the incident and so Griffin tries to find ways to raise the money.
Griffin enters a poetry competition that is offering £2000 in prize money. He advertises for a lodger, and as a result Bolla, a menacing and unsophisticated woman, moves into the cabin. A young man is kidnapped from Corpus Christi College and bird watchers are attacked on the ferns. Eventually, Jess makes a final desperate attempt to redeem himself and in doing so saves Griffin from a scandal of his own making.
Ray Winston gives a confident performance as Griffin, a man trying to make sense of the mysterious world around him. Karl Johnson is adequate as the morose Jess, but I felt his performance sometimes lacked passion for a religious zealot. The best performance however must go to Jessica Stevenson as the intimidating ex-con Bolla, a butch woman who asserts herself over the men and whose stage presence is strangely mesmerising.
This is a drama in which one needs to keep one’s wits about you in order to follow the plot as it unfolds. Some may think the effort not worthwhile, I found the play compelling.
What other critics had to say.....
DARREN DALGLISH says, "Confusing, but absorbing play that is full of mystery and surprises. You'll need your thinking caps on for this one!" MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "Butterworth... writes eccentrically funny dialogue, and creates a memorable character in Bolla." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "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." NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Disappointing new play." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "The play strikes me as a muddle, and not a very rich and rewarding muddle." RHODA KOENIG for THE INDEPENDENT says, "It's a quirky, creepy play with scenes few other writers are likely to imagine.."
External links to full reviews from newspapers...
Production photos by Ivan Kyncl