I made a grave error of judgement earlier this year, one that I shall long regret. I forget how many people begged, cajoled and implored me to go and see Jez Butterworth's play Jerusalem when it was on at the Apollo. But, put off by the ticket price, I dithered and when finally I decided to go it was long sold out.

Mark Rylance played the lead, the beautifully complex anti-hero Johnny 'Rooster' Byron, to unanimously rave reviews. More than just engaging audiences with the play's themes of Englishness, place, the countryside, belonging, rebellion (teenage and otherwise), and rites of passage, Rylance's performance seemed to leave people physically shaken, as though he had actually invoked the ancient, atavistic powers that suffuse the text. I should have gone. I'm a fool and I know it.

Second best, I've just read the play, but even imagining Rylance as Rooster proved enough to invoke its strange powers. I was genuinely moved and shaken. As soon as I'd finished I had to read it all over again, the second time no less powerfully than the first. Like Coleridge's glitteringly eyed Ancient Mariner I've been thrusting the text on my friends: 'You have to read this!' I'm urging you, too.

I can't really say much about why I think the play is so extraordinary without spoiling the plot. But I think, as Butterworth and Rylance say towards the end of this interview, it's because the play is an anguished cry for the importance of mythos in our logos-driven world. Logos is about rationalism, calculation, straight-lines and ticked-boxes. It's about career-ladders and life lived according to a plan. It's the housing estate that engulfs the woods. Mythos is, well...even to try and define it is to reduce it to logos, to make it something that it isn't. We can only look at mythos askance, from the corner of our eyes. But we know its warped and twisted shape when we see it. We feel its effects viscerally.

So here's to the outlaws, the outsiders, the madmen and the magicians, the Roosters of this world, who give their lives to mythos and make the world shake.


  1. Agreed. I saw the play (the best and most powerful thing I'd ever seen on stage), then bought up all of Jez Butterworth's plays. Also went to get returns, but there were queues around the block. Spoke to Jez at the Guardian's open weekend thing a couple of months ago.



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