Jerusalem is set in the fictional town of Flintock in the county of Wiltshire in southwestern England. Flintock is roughly based on the town of Pewsey, where playwright Jez Butterworth resided for a few years. The Flintock Fair is modeled after Pewsey’s annual carnival week (http://www.pewsey-carnival.org.uk) . The character of Johnny “Rooster” Byron, the play’s protagonist, was inspired by Micky Lay, a retired builder who lived in a caravan just outside Pewsey.
The script frequently alludes to the poem “And did those feet in ancient time” by William Blake. It was written as a preface to his epic poem, Milton a Poem, in 1808. The central idea implied by the poem is that, one day, Jesus will visit England and create a “new Jerusalem” there. This image is a common metaphor for Heaven. Here is the full text of Blake’s poem:
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountain green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!
And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green and pleasant Land.
A century later, these words were set to music by Sir Hubert Perry in 1916, and the song was entitled “Jerusalem.” “Jerusalem” has since been adopted as one of several unofficial anthems of England, and is sung as a hymn in the Anglican and Episcopal churches in England. Two renditions of the song may be found here: https://youtu.be/5B1y5ZWTYUc and https://youtu.be/4yIWBO_7nio.
Jerusalem premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London on July 15, 2009. It was directed by Ian Rickson with scenic and costume design by Ultz, lighting design by Mimi Jordan Sherin, sound design by Ian Dickinson, and original music composed by Stephen Warbeck. The cast starred Mark Rylance (Johnny), Mackenzie Crook (Ginger), Tom Brooke (Lee), Alan David (the Professor), Danny Kirrane (Davey), Gerard Horan (Wesley), Aimée-Ffion Edwards (Phaedra), Barry Sloane (Troy), Lucy Montgomery (Dawn), Jessica Barden (Pea), Charlotte Mills (Tanya), Sarah Moyle (Ms. Fawcett), Harvey Robinson (Mr. Parsons), Lewis Coppen and Lennie Harvey (Marky).
The Royal Court Theatre production was critically acclaimed, and transferred to a limited run on the West End at the Apollo Theatre from January 28, 2010 to April 24, 2010. The same cast and creative team were retained, with the exception of a few replacements: Amy Beth Hayes (Dawn), Charlie Dunbar-Aldred and Jake Noble (Marky). Mark Rylance received the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor for his performance.
On April 21, 2011, Jerusalem opened on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre. The original design elements transferred with the play, in addition to most of the original cast. The new performers that joined that cast were John Gallagher Jr. (Lee), Max Baker (Wesley), Geraldine Hughes (Dawn), Molly Ranson (Pea), Mark Page and Aidan Eyrick (Marky). The Broadway production received a Tony Award nomination for Best Play, and Rylance won the Best Actor in a Play Tony award. Rylance later gave his Tony statue to Mickey Lay, the man who inspired his character and who had met with Rylance several times during Rylance’s preparation for the role. The Broadway production closed after a four-week extension on August 21, 2011.
After Jerusalem’s Broadway run, the show returned to the Apollo Theatre on the West End from October 8, 2011 to January 14, 2012. Rave reviews continued to flow in, with the Daily Telegraph’s Charles Spencer proclaiming Mark Rylance to be “an actor of indisputable greatness, giving the most thrilling performance it has ever been my privilege to witness.”
In January 2014, Jerusalem had its first west coast production, at the San Francisco Playhouse in San Francisco, California. It was the first production of the play without playwright Jez Butterworth’s direct involvement. Johnny “Rooster” Byron was portrayed by Brian Dykstra, who earned critical acclaim for his performance.
In 2014, an outdoor production of Jerusalem was mounted by the Common Players Theatre Company. The production involved local performers from Devon and Somerset. The show toured around UK’s Westcountry.
The original production’s staging featured live chickens, a live tortoise, goldfish, several real trees, and a real travel caravan onstage. This is not necessary to mounting the show, if not possible.