Jerusalem: a Play


The first play we had to read for Professor Musgrave’s class is called Jerusalem and it was written by Jez Butterworth. To be honest, I loved it, even if it wasn’t very easy to understand because it was full of British slang and references to British culture. Reading Jerusalem made me realise once again how hard it is to write in English for a non-native English speaker. How can you write something funny, how can you get some jokes when reading or watching a play? If you’re not British but want to write for British people, you can’t just do it without researching and trying to keep an eye open to every little difference between your own culture and British culture.

Hemingway used to say that we should write about the things we know – so, if you want to write about a culture which is not yours, then you need to know that culture. It is hard work, but it’s worth it, and your works will probably be much more rich and meaningful. That being said, I really loved the play. It was also very different from Ophelias Zimmer, and I got the feeling of what Professor Musgrave said about British tradition in theatre being completely different from the German one. In fact, in Jerusalem the dialogue is the essence of the play, being witty and funny all the time. The hero, Johnny “Rooster” Byron, is incredibly well-depicted from the very beginning of the play.


What really struck me was the detailed description of the stage. Apparently there are so many objects on stage that’s almost incredible to imagine that Jerusalem is a play rather than a film. Those details give the reader a very vivid idea of what the stage should look like – and I bet it is a pity that I couldn’t watch the play. It premiered at the Royal Court Theatre (the same where we watched Ophelias Zimmer) in 2009, it was directed by Ian Rickson and starred Mark Rylance as Johnny Byron. His performance was acclaimed and both the playwright and Mark Rylance won some important awards.

The play is set in a wood, outside a village in Wiltshire. This wood is illegaly occupied by Johnny “Rooster” Byron, who is served an eviction notice from council officials. The play takes place on St. George’s Day, and the action starts in the morning of the country fair. Many characters spend their day at Johnny’s mobile house, and they all have a story and are connected to Johnny, who is in fact quite a lone wolf but at the same time is a very tender and sweet character. I guess this play is about solitude and love, friendship and loyalty. It is very, very funny. I laughed a lot while reading it, also on the tube. I really liked how Johnny seems a very cynical character at the beginning and how you can glimpse the crack in his armour when he talks to his ex-wife and his son.

To be honest, I enjoyed reading this play more than I enjoyed watching Ophelias Zimmer. Of course they are very different plays so it is probably a bit stupid to compare them, but I felt like I’ve always Johnny Rooster and I felt like his mobile house in the woods were real. It was like everyone, and the reader as well, knew exactly what that place, the parties and Johnny himself meant to the community. I really liked it and I am very sad I hadn’t the chance to see it.



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