Comedy challenges normal boundaries

Johnny 'Rooster' Byron, played by Bill Griffiths, talking to his gang in Jerusalem
Johnny 'Rooster' Byron, played by Bill Griffiths, talking to his gang in Jerusalem

‘AND did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green?’

So begins the short poem, Jerusalem by William Blake, printed in 1808 and today best known as the anthem Jerusalem, with music written in 1916 by Sir Hubert Parry.

In Jez Butterworth’s 2009 play of the same name, he gives a big nod to this favourite of British hymns.

Wildly original, it is partly a lament about the erosion of country life and partly a rebuff to the antiseptic modern world.

The Olivier and Tony award-winning comedy caused quite a stir and The Southwick Players are excited to perform Jerusalem next month.

On St George’s Day, the morning of the local country fair, Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron (Bill Griffiths), local waster and Lord of Misrule, is a wanted man.

The council officials want to serve him an eviction notice on his home, a trailer in the woods, his son wants to be taken to the fair and a motley crew of his mates want his ample supply of drugs and alcohol while being regaled by his tales.

On top of this, a vengeful father suspects him of leading his under-age daughter astray and wants to give him a serious kicking.

He can spin a yarn for sure and has always kept himself afloat with his menacing charm, cunning and a wealth of outlandish mythical stories, but how will he dig himself out of the hole this time and save his home from being demolished?

This multi-award winning play was a West End and Broadway phenomenon and received huge critical acclaim, yet it broke every rule in the book.

‘Rooster’ is a Romany squatter who deals drugs and serves alcohol to the disaffected youth of a Wiltshire village, so he is hardly your typical West End hero.

Director Claire Lewis said: “All these reviews can’t be wrong. In September, Jerusalem was in The Times list of the 20 most influential plays in theatre history.

“Having missed out on seeing the original production, and being aware of the tremendous reviews it received, I couldn’t wait to read the play – I immediately fell in love with it.

“Fresh, bold and challenging, with a mixed array of interesting characters, it was obviously why it had created such a buzz. A gift of a play to direct!”

Jerusalem comes to the Barn Theatre in Southwick from December 4 to 7, at 7.30pm daily.

This adult comedy contains strong language and adult themes. Its colourful language has been highlighted by reviewers.

Tickets are £10 on the Wednesday, £11 Thursday to Saturday. Call the Barn Theatre box office on 01273 597094, or book at www.southwickplayers.org.uk (no booking fee).