(Kate's Muir's interview ran in the Times of London, January 23.) 


Jez Butterworth and Mark Rylance on Jerusalem

The bad boys of British theatre explain how Es, whizz and the Home Counties inspired their state of the nation triumph, Jerusalem

If you call a play Jerusalem,” says Jez Butterworth, the English playwright, “you’ve got to know what you’re doing. It could easily go very badly wrong.”

But it has not. Jerusalem makes a victorious transfer to the West End next week, after opening at the Royal Court, where it scooped awards for best play and, for Mark Rylance, best actor. It is a three-hour comic epic that appears to deal with small beer and wastrels, but stealthily becomes a state-of-the-nation play. As Johnny “Rooster” Byron, its hero, supposedly says at birth: “Mother, what is this dark place?” / “’Tis England, my boy, England.”

Butterworth eviscerates the dark places of the English countryside with wildly eccentric humour. It’s that rare genre, savage pastoral, and Butterworth has worked on and off for a decade at getting the tone just right. Once he knew that Rylance would take the part, Butterworth moulded the script around him. The result is Large Hadron Collider theatre. As one critic said of Rylance as Byron: “Very occasionally, a performance is so charismatic, so mercurial, so complete and compelling that it doesn’t look like acting. Instead, it is a total embodiment of a character.”

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