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 Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Watermill Theatre

Box office

01635 46044.

The Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, Newbury, RG20 8AE. A map is here. A seating plan is here.


Reviews of Jerusalem

21st June to 21st July 2018

Review from Newbury Theatre.

It’s St George’s Day. The Wiltshire village of Flintock is set up for its annual fair and in the woods nearby is Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron’s caravan, dominating the stage and surrounded with a sofa, drinks, drugs and a vast amount of assorted detritus. Two Kennet and Avon council officials have failed to rouse Byron and stuck an eviction notice on the caravan. The Rooster’s abusive tirade through a megaphone at the departing officials sets the tone for the day.

And the Rooster really does rule the roost of his mostly younger hangers on, there for the booze and drugs, and to listen to Byron’s tallest of tall tales of his earlier life, not sure whether to believe or discount.

This is a hell of a part for Jasper Britton to take on – can he hope to match Mark Rylance’s much praised performance in the original London production nine years ago? Well, I didn’t see the original, so I can’t answer that; what I can say is that it was a superbly impressive performance. Yes, he has the charisma and the force of personality to make the character believable but it was also a very sympathetic performance. You can’t help liking him and rooting for him. There’s a huge range of emotions on display, from bellicose to vulnerable; particularly poignant when with his son (a very good deadpan performance from Wilf Busby, one of the three local boys playing Marky, scared of his dad and bullied at school because of his dad’s reputation).

Among his assorted entourage were Peter Caulfield as Ginger, desperately loyal to Byron but not treated well by him, and Adam Burton as the thuggish Troy, reducing Byron to his lowest level with a verbal and physical beating. The strong supporting cast included Robert Fitch as Wesley, the Morris-dancing publican, and Nenda Neurer as the druggie hanger on (Pea) and the winsome lost-child/fairy (Phaedra).

At the end of the day, before the council enforcers move in, Rooster has regained his confidence as, on his own in front of his caravan, he loudly and defiantly prepares for his last stand.

It’s a long play – three hours, including two short intervals – but Lisa Blair’s tight direction ensures it doesn’t drag. It’s up to date, with rural life being overwhelmed by the ever-increasing demand for housing. And yes, it’s a comedy, albeit a dark one.


Review from The Telegraph.

Five stars
“And did those feet in ancient time/ Walk upon England’s mountains green…” The first words of Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, set in the fictional town of Flintock, Wiltshire on the day of its annual fair, borrow audaciously from Blake.

Watching the play’s first professional revival since it stormed from the Royal Court in 2009 to the West End a year later (and then to Broadway), more recent foot-steps come to mind: those of that acting giant Mark Rylance, who created the role of Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron. So winningly did Rylance bring this Falstaffian anti-hero to reprobate life that he attained the status of a theatrical messiah.

The fittingly bucolic Watermill has good cause to crow as the first regional theatre to get its mitts on this modern classic but how do you follow that Olivier-winning turn? Even in such an intimate space, the pressure is on.

First seen yowling into a megaphone, face obscured by a helmet and goggles, Jasper Britton rises magnificently to the challenge, or rather sinks and slouches to it. He brings less of the strutting peacock to this wild-man of the woods – facing eviction during the St George’s Day fair from his mobile-home, magnet for local kids and much midnight mischief and source of concern for residents at the soulless new estate nearby. You might say comparisons are odoriferous. What Britton lacks in physique he compensates for with pungency: his hair lank, his T-shirt begrimed, he ambles Byron's detritus-strewn patch in biker’s trousers with telling stiffness, every inch the once hallowed, much injured stunt rider reduced to getting barred from boozers for drunken outrages.

Rylance excelled at an otherworldly charm; Britton’s approach is more tramp-next-door - chain-smoking, booze-raddled - mainly downbeat then madly growling. Just as Lisa Blair’s revival argues the case for the play having renewed topicality as house-building (and rural drug-dealing) sweeps the nation, so Britton forces you to see the character afresh as a figure of inspiriting symbolic force and real-life poignancy: a yarn-spinning misfit who invites disdain (even disgust) and yet also covert, needy admiration from those who gather round him - most touchingly, his estranged six-year-old son.

The superb ensemble, meanwhile, make the bravura dialogue sound as revitalising as ever and you’re going to have to fight your way in to get a seat. Let’s hope the play now stays in the repertoire on a more regular basis. Lush.


Review from The Times.

Five stars
So now we know. If there had been any suspicion that the triumph of Jez Butterworth’s 2009 play first time around in London and New York had really been the triumph of Mark Rylance’s astounding central performance, this first regional revival scotches it.

Lisa Blair’s production confirms that Jerusalem can still throb with energy, ideas, comedy, carnality and complexity for three magical hours. It is a rambunctious rural tragicomedy, a state-of-the-nation play that wouldn’t dream of doing anything so banal as to stop and debate the state of the nation.

Blair has assembled a fine ensemble of ten, but let’s not muck about: the show still rests on whoever is going to play Johnny “Rooster” Byron, the motorcycle daredevil turned middle-aged man in the woods, partying with and selling drugs to the local teens. From the moment that Jasper Britton emerges from the battered caravan on Frankie Bradshaw’s set, shouting and dancing and flicking the Vs, we are getting an original, not a cast-off.

He may be “Wiltshire’s biggest bullshitter”, but Britton’s Byron still emits a life force both grubby and glorious. We know he’s dangerous, we know he’s selfish, but we also know that he’s the smartest guy in the copse and we know he’s fun. So we see why — in a mesmerising central scene — his ex, Natalie Walter’s Dawn, both sees through him and can’t look past him. Rooster Byron is a great role, but Britton shows greatness, too, in how he makes it his own.

Yes, during the first of the three acts this can play as sitcomish: locals congregate, chat and party in their bolthole from reality. Yet if this is a sitcom, it’s the last episode — the one where everything goes to pot. And in the more intimate setting of the Watermill it’s almost easier to see just how acute Butterworth’s writing is, how he shows us individuals whose lives are either changing for good or who are in denial of that flux.

There is foolish behaviour, but there are no fools here. Every character is given their due. Crucially, Britton — and Butterworth — let us fall in love with Rooster, while we know full well he’s shitheel as well as shaman. Our apparently leisurely immersion into an apparently constant world makes it mean plenty when that world unravels (Butterworth used a similar tactic in The Ferryman).

We see our need for something — or someone — bigger than ourselves reflected back at us. So never mind the size of the stage, this modern great play remains immense.


Review from The Guardian.

Three stars
It takes courage to revive a play that was deemed by so many to be the best British stage production of modern times. And even more courage for a lead actor to risk comparison with the original star, Mark Rylance, who won an Olivier and a Tony for his role in it. So the Watermill shows daring in its staging of Jerusalem, which had a sensational run at the Royal Court in 2009 followed by the West End, twice, as well as Broadway.

If Jez Butterworth’s play exposes the grim realities of rural life and pierces the idealised vision of an Albion idyll, director Lisa Blair here flags up its relevance to Brexit Britain. This is the troubled English countryside many did not acknowledge before the referendum, variously neglected or oppressed by bureaucracy, and in which Old England’s feudal landlords have been replaced by council officials driving non-taxpayer and refusenik Johnny “Rooster” Byron off the land.

Teenagers from the Wiltshire estates who tramp up to the woods for Rooster’s all-night raves and “whizz” are the “Friends, outcasts and leeches,” of his Mark Antony-like address. They want to haul up the borders: “I leave Wiltshire, my ears pop”, says one who never wants to leave home.

The Watermill’s rural Berkshire location is certainly a better fit than a city for a play that engages with the notion of a lost pastoral. The set is dominated by a caravan and a beaten-up sofa with bottles of booze, much like the original. But the intimacy of the space makes the woodland more vivid and darkly oppressive, bringing an anarchic element to the staging: the audience is sprayed with water, cigarette smoke wafts into the stalls, the thump of rave music shakes the ground beneath our feet.


Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Anarchy in our green and pleasant land

The Watermill's Jerusalem: an outstanding production

Jerusalem, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until July 21

With our minds concentrating on Brexit, the England success (so far) in the World Cup, our achievement in cricket, the very essence of being English is powerfully explored in Jez Butterworth's quintessential multi award-winning play Jerusalem.

It's St George's Day and the villagers of Flintock in Wiltshire are preparing for the annual fete, but not everyone is happy.

In the woods lives gypsy Johnny 'Rooster' Byron in a dilapidated old caravan surrounded by the detritus of his bohemian lifestyle, superbly realised in Frankie Bradshaw's atmospheric set.

Avon and Kennet Council are determined to evict Rooster and tear down his encampment to make way for new houses, but he wants to protect the woodlands although he only has until 6pm before the bulldozers move in.

His caravan is a magnet for the local youngsters who he supplies with drugs, booze and tells his fantastical stories about giants, being born with a bullet in his mouth and his exploits as a motorbike stunt driver jumping over double decker buses, with disastrous results.

Britton, dressed in faded black motorcycle leathers, is absolutely outstanding as the chain-smoking defiant, drunk drug addict. He gives a dynamic visceral performance, owning the stage, and makes the character his very own, dispelling any comparison to Mark Rylance's performance at the Royal Court in 2009.

The play starts with Phaedra (Nenda Neurer) beautifully singing Parry's hymn Jerusalem before the superb cast burst on to the stage with energy and verve. They are a disparate bunch of 'hangers on', feeding off Rooster's philosophy on life.

Pub landlord Wesley (Robert Fitch), dressed in Morris-dancing costume, has banned Rooster from his pub, but still will take a line of cocaine from him.

Richard Evans is the whimsical professor babbling on about the true meaning of forest life while Santino Smith, as Davey, works in an abattoir and is afraid that "If I leave Wiltshire my ears will pop" – unlike Lee (Sam Swann), who is emigrating to Australia, but is reluctant to leave his rural life behind.

Then there is Ginger (Peter Caulfield). creating mayhem as the totally drugged-up misfit.

A sensitive scene between Rooster's ex-girlfriend Dawn (Natalie Walter) and their young son Marky (seven-year-old Wilf Busby) reveals another side of Rooster's character, and there is excellent support from Adam Burton and Rebecca Lee as the promiscuous Tanya.

Lisa Blair's fluid, assured direction is a tour de force and this excellent production should definitely not be missed.

An outstanding production.


There are reviews from The Stage ("incredibly, intimately intense... a really strong revival, deftly miniaturised by [Lisa] Blair without losing any sense of scope or scale" - 3 stars), The Spy In The Stalls ("an inspired production that thanks to Lisa Blair’s excellent direction seems to grow out of the very earth the Watermill theatre stands on" - 5 stars), WhatsOnStage ("just as devastating, pertinent and incandescently funny as you could hope... it's just all so rich, so full of energy and passion a modern classic" - 5 stars), theatreCat (Libby Purves) ("an extraordinarily powerful, utterly complete performance by Jasper Britton... every character stands out" - 5 stars).

There's an interesting article...

... by Tei Williams about the process in staging a Watermill production, from choosing the play through to the opening night. It's here.

Reviews in the Archive

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (May 2018)
Burke and Hare (April 2018 and on tour)
The Rivals (March 2018)
Teddy (January 2018)
The Borrowers (November 2017)
Under Milk Wood (October 2017)
Loot (September 2017)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (September 2017 and on tour)
A Little Night Music (July 2017)
All at Sea! (July 2017)
The Miller's Child (July 2017)
Nesting (July 2017 and on tour)
House and Garden (May 2017)
Twelfth Night (April 2017)
Faust x2 (March 2017)
Murder For Two (January 2017)
Sleeping Beauty (November 2016)
Frankenstein (October 2016)
The Wipers Times (September 2016)
Crazy For You (July 2016)
Watership Down (June 2016)
Untold Stories (May 2016)
One Million Tiny Plays About Britain (April 2016 and on tour)
Romeo and Juliet (February 2016)
Tell Me on a Sunday (January 2016)
Alice in Wonderland (November 2015)
Gormenghast (November 2015) - see the Youth page
The Ladykillers (September 2015)
Oliver! (July 2015)
A Little History of the World (July 2015 and on tour)
Between the Lines (July 2015)
The Deep Blue Sea (June 2015)
Far From the Madding Crowd (April 2015)
Tuxedo Junction (March 2015)
The Secret Adversary (February 2015)
Peter Pan (November 2014)
But First This (October 2014)
Twelfth Night (November 2014) - see the Youth page
Journey's End (September 2014)
Calamity Jane (July 2014)
The Boxford Masques - Joe Soap's Masquerade (July 2014)
Hardboiled - the Fall of Sam Shadow (July 2014)
A Bunch of Amateurs (May 2014)
Sense and Sensibility (April 2014)
Life Lessons (March 2014)
All My Sons (February 2014)
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (January 2014)
Pinocchio (November 2013)
Sherlock's Last Case (September 2013)
Romeo+Juliet (September 2013 and on tour)
The Witches of Eastwick (July 2013)
Laurel & Hardy (June 2013)
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (May 2013)
The Miser (April 2013)
David Copperfield (March 2013)
Sleuth (February 2013)
Arabian Nights (November 2012)
The Tempest (September 2012)
Thoroughly Modern Millie (August 2012)
Boxford Masques (July 2012)
Ben Hur (June 2012)
Of Mice and Men (May 2012)
Love on the Tracks (April 2012 and on tour)
Henry V and The Winter's Tale (April 2012)
Lettice and Lovage (February 2012)
The Wind in the Willows (November 2011)
Some Like It Hotter (November 2011 and on tour)
Great Expectations (September 2011)
Radio Times (August 2011)
The Marriage of Figaro (July 2011)
Moonlight and Magnolias (May 2011)
Richard III and The Comedy of Errors (April 2011)
The Clodly Light Opera and Drama Society (March 2011)
Relatively Speaking (February 2011)
Treasure Island (November 2010)
Single Spies (September 2010)
Copacabana (July 2010)
Daisy Pulls It Off (June 2010)
Brontë (April 2010)
Raising Voices (March 2010)
Confused Love (March 2010)
Heroes (February 2010)
James and the Giant Peach (November 2009)
Educating Rita (October 2009)
Spend Spend Spend! (July 2009 and September 2010)
Blithe Spirit (May 2009)
Bubbles (April to May and September to October 2009)
A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merchant of Venice (March 2009)
Life X 3 (January 2009)
Matilda and Duffy's Stupendous Space Adventure (November 2008)
The Sirens' Call (November 2008)
Our Country's Good (September 2008)
See Newbury Dramatic Society for a review of The Recruiting Officer (October 2008)
Sunset Boulevard (July 2008)
Boxford Masques - Knight and Day (July 2008)
Black Comedy and The Bowmans (May 2008)
London Assurance (April 2008)
Micky Salberg's Crystal Ballroom Dance Band (April 2008 and on tour)
Great West Road (March 2008)
Merrily We Roll Along (March 2008)
Honk! (November 2007)
Rope (September 2007)
Martin Guerre (July 2007)
Twelfth Night (June 2007)
The Story of a Great Lady (April and September 2007, and on tour)
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (April 2007)
For Services Rendered (March 2007)
Plunder (January 2007)
The Snow Queen (November 2006)
Peter Pan in Scarlet (October 2006)
The Taming of the Shrew (September 2006 and on tour in 2007)
Hot Mikado (July 2006 and September 2009)
Boxford Masques: The Crowning of the Year (July 2006)
Hobson's Choice (May 2006)
Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (April 2006)
Tartuffe (February 2006)
The Jungle Book (November 2005)
The Gilded Lilies (October 2005)
Copenhagen (September 2005)
The Garden of Llangoed (September 2005 and September 2006)
Thieves' Carnival (July 2005)
The Shed (July 2005)
Mack and Mabel (May 2005)
The Odyssey (May 2005)
Broken Glass (April 2005)
The Winter's Tale (January 2005)
Arabian Nights (December 2004)
See Newbury Dramatic Society for a review of Whose Life is it Anyway? (November 2004)
Multiplex (November 2004)
Neville's Island (September 2004)
The Comedian (September 2004 and March 2005)
Raising Voices Again (September 2004)
Pinafore Swing (July 2004)
The Venetian Twins (May 2004)
The Gentleman from Olmedo (April 2004)
Mr & Mrs Schultz (March 2004 and on tour)
Sweeney Todd (February 2004)
The Emperor and the Nightingale (November 2003)
See Newbury Dramatic Society for a review of An Ideal Husband (November 2003)
A Star Danced (September 2003)
The Fourth Fold (September 2003)
The Last Days of the Empire (July 2003)
Accelerate (July 2003)
Dreams from a Summer House (May 2003)
The Triumph of Love (April 2003)
Gigolo (March 2003)
Raising Voices (March 2003)
A Midsummer Night's Dream (February 2003)
The Firebird (November 2002)
Ten Cents a Dance (September 2002)
Dancing at Lughnasa (July 2002)
Love in a Maze (June 2002)
Fiddler on the Roof (April 2002)
I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls (March 2002 and March 2006)
Only a Matter of Time (February 2002)
Cinderella and the Enchanted Slipper (November 2001)
Piaf (October 2001)
The Merchant of Venice (October 2001)
Witch (September 2001)
The Clandestine Marriage (August 2001)
The Importance of Being Earnest (May 2001)
Gondoliers (March 2001)
Rose Rage (February 2001)
Carmen (July 2000)