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Green & Pleasant Land

March 28, 2011

It's a bit of a shock when you hear a nationalistic song ripped out of its regular context.

This morning, someone sent me a link to an unofficial trailer on YouTube for Jerusalem, a play by Jez Butterworth which earned rave reviews in London at the Royal Court and is now heading to the Music Box Theatre on Broadway for a limited run starting in April.

In the video, an innocent-looking fairy of a girl sings the jingoistic British hymn Jerusalem (a setting by Hubert Parry of a William Blake composed in 1916) in front of an Airstream camper van in her most earnest musical theatre voice. If hearing the song sung as if it were a show tune isn't weird enough, every now and then, the screen shakes spasmodically while captions tell us that a character by the name of Johnny "Rooster" Byron provides shelter for innocent young people...and also pedals them drugs.

The video is creepy and in slightly poor taste really, though it quickly sets up a dissonance between the "Jerusalem" of Blake and Parry's proud anthem and the dark modern slant of the drama. It makes me curious to see the play, which I suppose means that the re-appropriation of the song works.

The official trailer for Jerusalem is quite different in tone. It has a touch of Monty Python's Flying Circus about it. Watch it here.

As many British dramatists have been saying since the post-WWII years, so much for England's Green and Pleasant Land.

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