(Emma Brockes’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 11/10.)

One afternoon in early October, Hugh Jackman strode around a rehearsal space near Times Square, dressed in black and with a scabbard on his hip. The knife in the scabbard was intended for a fish, which, every night from November 16th onward, Jackman will gut, fillet, and season onstage in Jez Butterworth’s new play, “The River.” Part of Jackman’s rightness for the role, Butterworth told me, is his understanding that the sea trout is in some ways the star. “He gets it.”

“The River” can be a tough play to get. It opened in London two years ago, for a limited run at the tiny ninety-seat theatre upstairs at the Royal Court, and is transferring to Broadway’s Circle in the Square, with the role that was played in London by Dominic West now filled by Jackman—“the biggest Broadway star in one of the smallest Broadway theatres,” Butterworth said. This marks a conscious downsizing from his last play, “Jerusalem,” first produced in 2009, and a huge hit. “The River” is a different beast: eighty minutes to “Jerusalem” ’s three hours and contemplative where the earlier play was raucous, turning on the intimacies of a couple rather than the carnival-like energy of a cast of fourteen. The first time I met Butterworth, in New York in the middle of the summer, it was in one of his natural environments, a cool, dark pub, which he entered, on a blazing hot day, wearing an unseasonably warm coat and a gray porkpie hat, with the shambling gait of a man on home turf. He ordered a pint of Guinness and removed his hat, revealing a jagged crest of dark hair streaked with silver, which, along with his black-and-white beard, gave him the look of an affable but vaguely diffident badger. (Butterworth finds the word “badger” hilarious; it crops up all over his plays. In “The Winterling,” for example: “I’m here to tell you, the badger bears a grudge.”)


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