Jerusalem (play)

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Written by Jez Butterworth
Date premiered 2009
Place premiered Royal Court in London
Original language English

Jerusalem is a play by Jez Butterworth that opened at the downstairs theatre of the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2009. The production starred Mark Rylance as Johnny "Rooster" Byron and Mackenzie Crook as Ginger. After receiving rave reviews its run was extended. In January 2010 it transferred to the Apollo Theatre.


On St. George's Day, the morning of the local county fair, Johnny "Rooster" Byron, local waster and modern day Pied Piper, is a wanted man. The council officials want to serve him an eviction notice, his son wants him to take him to the fair, Troy Whitworth wants to give him a serious kicking, and a motley crew of mates want his ample supply of drugs and alcohol.[1][2]


Jerusalem has a cast of around 14; some of the main characters:

Johnny "Rooster" Byron – opinionated eccentric ex-daredevil and teller of fantastically improbable stories, he has a young son whom he rarely sees, and lives in a caravan in the local woods holding parties where he gets drunk and supplies drugs, some of them to under-age kids.

Ginger – pathetic underdog of the group, he is older than the others who hang around with Johnny, never having grown out of the lifestyle. He aspires to be a DJ, but is in fact an unemployed plasterer.

The Professor – vague and whimsical, the elderly professor spouts philosophical nothings and unwittingly takes LSD.

Davey – young teenage abbatoir worker who is best friends with Lee, and visits Rooster regularly for free drugs and alcohol. He can't stand the idea of leaving Wiltshire.

Troy Whitworth – local thug, the same age as Ginger; his stepdaughter, whom (it is strongly implied) he sexually abuses, goes missing in the play; he badly beats Johnny up at the end of the play.

Lee – young teenager, he enters the play having been hidden in the sofa asleep after about 15 minutes; he plans to emigrate to Australia the next day, despite having little money to take with him.

Phaedra – Troy's stepdaughter, she is seen at the beginning of both Act One and Two singing the hymn "Jerusalem" dressed in fairy wings, and her disappearance is referred to; it is only at the end of Act Two that it is revealed that she is actually hiding in Johnny's caravan.

Pea and Tanya – two local girls who emerge from underneath Johnny's caravan, having fallen asleep drunk there.

Dawn – Johnny's ex-girlfriend and mother to his child, though she disapproves of his lifestyle; having spent some time with him she relapses and kisses him, but there is no reconciliation.

Marky – Johnny's six-year-old son.

Wesley – the local pub landlord, he is involved in the festivities for St George's Day and has been roped in to doing the Morris Dancing.

Linda Fawcett and Luke Parsons – the council officials.

Frank Whitworth Brother of Troy Whitworth

Danny Whitworth Younger brother of Troy and Frank Whitworth

Inspiration for the play

The character of Johnny "Rooster" Byron was based on retired builder Micky Laye, who lived in a caravan in Pewsey, Wiltshire. Rylance met Laye and modelled his performance on Laye's mannerisms; he later gave Laye the Tony award he had received for his performance. Laye died of a heart attack while waiting for his local pub to open in December 2013.[3] Though the location of events is not specified in the play, the community depicted is based on Pewsey, and the local festival is modelled on Pewsey's annual carnival week.[4][5]

The play makes frequent allusions to William Blake's lyrics to the song "Jerusalem", from which its title is derived.


2009 Royal Court

The premiere of the play was at the Royal Court Theatre in London. The staging involved live chickens, a live tortoise and goldfish and several real trees surrounding an onstage caravan.

It was directed by Ian Rickson and starred Mark Rylance as Johnny, Mackenzie Crook as Ginger, Alan David as the Professor, Tom Brooke as Lee, Danny Kirrane as Davey, Gerard Horan as Wesley and Barry Sloane as Troy Whiworth, Aimee-Ffion Edwards as Phaedra and Lucy Montgomery as Dawn.

It received very positive reviews all round:[6]

There are several of the Royal Court's trademark "in your face" shock tactics and an exceptionally high swear word count even by the exacting standards of the address, this rich three-hour play is also tender, touching, and blessed with both a ribald humour and a haunting sense of the mystery of things. — The Daily Telegraph

Jerusalem is a bold, ebullient and often hilarious State-of-England or (almost) State-of-Olde-England play... [Johnny] is a shrewd, bold, defiant, charismatic, even mesmeric man born out of his time. Imagine King Arthur reincarnated as a troll and you have something of the quality he brings to the debased pastoral he grittily, comically and finally mournfully inhabits. — The Times

Jez Butterworth's astonishing new play—an invigorating, yelping, defiant portrait of 21st century shires England. — The Daily Mail

2010 West End

Following a successful run at London's 380-seat Royal Court theatre, Jerusalem transferred to London's West End at the 796-seat Apollo Theatre for a limited 12-week season from 28 January 2010, closing on 24 April 2010. This resulted in its first negative review. Tim Walker in the Sunday Telegraph wrote of the character of Rooster: "With his chest out and his head back, lined up in a vertical line with his bottom, the actor does indeed resemble a rooster. The problem with the term 'local personality,' however, is that it is all too often a polite euphemism for a crushing bore, and three hours in Rooster's company does prove to be something of an endurance test." Rylance went on to win the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor for his performance.[7]

2011 Broadway

Jerusalem opened on Broadway on 21 April 2011 at the Music Box Theatre, following previews from 2 April 2011. It was scheduled to play a limited season until 24 July 2011, and then got a four-week extension (to 21 August).[8] Mark Rylance reprises the role of Rooster, with Mackenzie Crook and most of the original Royal Court cast also transferring.[9] The full cast for the production was announced on 17 February 2011, with John Gallagher, Jr., Max Baker, Geraldine Hughes, Richard Short, Molly Ranson, and James Riordan joining the show.[10] The play received a Tony Award nomination for Best Play, but lost to War Horse. Rylance won the Best Actor in a Play award for his performance.[11]

2011 return to West End

After its Broadway engagement, Jerusalem returned to the West End in London, playing at the Apollo from 8 October 2011 until 14 January 2012.[12] Again, reviews were raving, with The Daily Telegraph critic Charles Spencer giving it five stars (out of five), describing Mark Rylance as "an actor of indisputable greatness, giving the most thrilling performance it has ever been my privilege to witness."[13]

2014 San Francisco

In January 2014, Jerusalem had its west coast premiere at the San Francisco Playhouse in San Francisco, California. The first professional production of the play without the involvement of playwright Jez Butterworth,[14] the play garnered positive reviews, with San Francisco Examiner critic Jean Schiffman lauding Brian Dykstra's "enthralling, complex portrayal" of Johnny "Rooster" Byron.[15]

2014 UK Westcountry

An outdoor production, mounted by Common Players Theatre Company and involving local performers toured around Devon and Somerset.[citation needed]


  1. "Jez Butterworth – Playwright". Retrieved 16 March 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Butterworth, J. Jerusalem, Nick Hern Books, London, 2009.
  3. "Jerusalem: Inspiration behind hit West End play dies". BBC News. 2 January 2014. Retrieved 2 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Actors give tips of trade to Pewsey school". Wiltshire Gazette and Herald. 18 June 2009. Retrieved 24 October 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Briscoe, Joanna (30 October 2010). "Sod's lore". The Guardian. p. R11. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Jerusalem at The Royal Court Theatre". Retrieved 16 March 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Akbar, Arifa (22 March 2010). "From a play without a venue to a first for the Olivier Awards". The Independent.
  8. Itzkoff, Dave (25 May 2011). "Jerusalem Gets Four-Week Extension on Broadway". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. (20 December 2010). "Rylance Brings JERUSALEM to Broadway; Previews Begin April 2 at the Music Box Theatre".
  10. "John Gallagher, Jr. to Co-Star in JERUSALEM; Full Cast Announced". Retrieved 16 March 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Who's nominated?". American Theatre Wing's Tony Awards. 15 June 2011. Retrieved 19 June 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Jerusalem (West End)". Royal Court Theatre. Retrieved 26 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Spenser, Charles (17 October 2011). "Jerusalem review".
  14. "Playwright Butterworth juggles stage and screen".
  15. Jerusalem casts magical spell at SF Playhouse".

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