on 6 March 2011
I bought this to read after reading about the play on a news website. It's a great play to read and I would love to see it performed one day. I'm not sure how anyone outside the UK would take it as the characters and setting feel very English, but I do think the main character is so idiosyncratic that he would be interesting for anyone to watch. A great tale of something very earthy mixed with something very romantic (about England and the English) and folkloric. I loved the ending. It was one of the best endings I've "seen" in a play for a while.
By far Butterworth's greatest achievement, I saw this play in all three London runs, the best in the intimate Royal Court with the finest cast and the smell of petrol near the end. This man, Johnny 'Rooster' Byron is half Falstaff, half overgrown child/yob who rules his roost in his Airstream caravan threatened by new housing, with some censorious neighbours and bothersome police. Sex, drugs and rock 'n roll exist side by side with an older England of Blake and Ravilious, Shakespeare and Elgar, Sandy Denny as English rose singing 'Who Knows where the Time Goes'. Rooster's tall tales in part testify to a Celtic past too often forgotten, Saxon and Roman didn't entirely supplant the Celtic aboriginals; the world of St George's England, deep England found here in Flintock (based on Pewsey) in Wiltshire, adjacent to Gloucestershire where I grew up is nicely caught. It's rough and it's cosy, it's a game yet there are dangers too. Life. Kids gather round the Rooster and most leave; his nemesis Troy Whitworth and an estranged wife and son embody a world closing in on our lying, cussing, drinking hero. It's funny, it is poignant, there are echoes of Larkin, Blake and even Eliot (East Coker is in next door Somerset) in this state-of-the-nation play, state a multiple pun and the piece a multiple beauty that was a marvel to see and almost as much fun to read. High points: the Rooster meeting and quarrelling with the giant who said he built Stonehenge, the parochial bad quality of HTV "Points West" (true!) and the hardworking Nigerian traffic wardens who kidnapped our (anti) hero when he relieved himself in nearby Marlborough. A brilliant play: poignant and hilarious, entertaining and thoughtful.
on 2 November 2011
Jerusalem is a play about England, and I cannot think of a playwright since Shakespeare who has tackled the subject with such upfront gutsiness as Jez Butterworth does here. The text of the play is a real page-turner, not least because it is very funny.
In his use of language, Butterworth is more post-Pinter than he is post-Shakespeare. But neverthless, the distant echo of A Midsummer Night's Dream does haunt this play. And like Shakespeare, he does pepper the text with snatches of old songs, at least one of which is worth quoting here:
To see a strange outlandish fowl,
A quaint baboon, an ape, an owl,
A dancing bear, a giant's bone,
A warlock shift a standing stone,
A rhymer's jests, a juggler's cheats,
A tumbler showing cunning feats,
A morris dance, a puppet play,
Mad Tom to sing a roundelay,
All this upon St George's Day!
In the dialogue, Butterworth captures the idioms of speech, down Wiltshire way, so very well that one might easily mistake him for a native son of that county. Just as he captures the sense of England's "pleasant pastures" disappearing beneath a slew of by-passes and identikit housing estates.
What repeatedly enlivens the play - and possibly seperates it from the Pinter - are Butterworth's twin senses of humour and of fun. Bad things may happen, but there is nearly always a joke to hand. And he likewise adds colour to it with a liberal sprinkling of contemporary pop-culture references. Although quite how badly these may date with the passage of time, is anybody's guess.
The characters - Johnny, Ginger, the Professor, et al - are very well drawn, which is to say that Butterworth conveys a strong sense of their individuality, as characters. By the time the play ends, you feel as though you know them very well.
So, is Johnny Byron devil, or wizard, or neither, or both? You will have to either read the play, or see it, in order to answer that question for yourself.
on 13 May 2010
Dear fellow theatre lovers,
I can only recommend this play to you. I'm from Germany and saw the stage production in London's West End, because the title made me curious as I know the hymn "Jerusalem" and I had one of the best theatre evenings in years! As English is not my mother tongue I decided to read the play as well, because I really would not want to miss any of the jokes and satire in it. It's fresh, it's witty, it's entertaining as well as bitter to swallow.
on 13 April 2011
Jerusalem is about many things, from the hard partying gang that hangs about Rooster's rickety Airstream trailer, to the sadness of the discrimination against Romanys - Gitanes - Gypsies - of which he turns out to be one. Condemned to making money as a daredevil in his youth and a blood donor in middle age, Rooster is determined to live large - while the local town does its utmost to boot him out. In between, we are treated to the magic of central England, the fairies and giants and mystical beings that inhabit the woods and glens that for centuries have provided our legends. From Robin Hood to hobbits to Shrek, this setting is as fertile as they come, and author Jez Butterworth milks it to its fullest.
The first two acts are riotously funny, setting us up for the dismal fall, which is obvious from the beginning - this can't last. And it doesn't. But along the way we are treated to Rooster's intelligence, his understanding of the way things work, and his role in them. It's a remarkable story of coping and survival in a hostile environment, buried in a haze of gin and marijuana, as anybody in his situation might descend to. To that point, Jerusalem is highly believable. This could (and of course has been) going on in real life. Only the wonderfully involved massive and mammoth lies that Rooster spins are obviously made up. He has made himself into one of the great legends of the woods, remaining Rooster while generation after generation of teenagers in search of something more hang out for a while and move on.
A delightfully complex story, though readers don't have to get all this from reading it. As a straight story it is highly entertaining. But make no mistake, there is a masterpiece lurking in these pages.
on 3 January 2013
I live in North Devon so had to read Jez Butterworth's big hit Jerusalem before I was finally fortunate enough to see it in London last year. I'm glad I did as the play is so beautifully written that the characters flew off the page. So much so that only an actor as brilliant as Mark Rylance could have taken the written words to an even higher level. This play is a song to our rural way of life. It's funny, tragic, honest, direct and utterly mesmerising. It harks back to folk tales and myths and yet is completely modern. The only way I can really describe the experience of both reading and then seeing the play is perhaps by imagining that it gives the sort of wonder that audiences must have felt when they first stumbled upon Shakespeare's plays over 400 years ago. This is truly the best play I have ever read, the best play I have seen and for what it's worth to this book review, Mark Rylance's performance was the best performance I have witnessed.
on 20 May 2010
Bought to keep one of the finest performances I have ever witnessed fresh in my mind, I also found myself thinking harder about the themes of this amazing 'state of the nation' play.
on 14 October 2013
This Play is absolutely amazing, I would recommend you to even buy it just to read it. It's that good! DO IT NOW
on 7 March 2015
an absolutely amazing play.
i am currently studying this as an AS literature student and it is possibly the best play that we've had the fortune to study- the imagery and reference to mythology and the slightly dark humour is lovely, and is brilliant to re-enact in class. even some of my friends who hate english as a subject are enjoying this play, as i think it appeals to most people. the bad language may play some part in that, though. i would definitely reccomend this play, whatever your reason to buy it is! lessons spent studying this play are some of the best, purely because of the interesting subject matter.
on 26 July 2013
I bought this play recently after catching about 10seconds of Mark Rylance playing the lead
character as shown on a tv review programme. I would have liked to purchase the dvd of the play
but to date have not found it available. I read the play and found it quite raw and natural as one would
expect from the setting and characters depicted. I pictured the scenes quite easily from the writing.
The story revolves around one man and his determination to live and die as he wishes.
Johnny 'Rooster' Byron is described as a local waster and modern-day Pied Piper.