The last verse of Jerusalem by Willam Blake
In Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem he manages to achieve the same thing without speaking a word. As Johnny “Rooster” Byron he emerges from the trailer where he lives after an all-night rave and with mesmerising physicality washes his face by doing a handstand and dipping his head into a trough of water. He then makes himself a liquid breakfast of eggs, alcohol, milk and drugs while gyrating to music.
As you can tell from his name, Johnny represents an Englishman – but one far removed from the usual image portrayed on American TV in either regency breeches or the landed gentry. Instead Rooster can only be a muscledound tatttoed drug-dealing bling-wearing swearing gentleman of the 21st century who fights for his own mythical vision of England against all forms of modern authority.
The play is set on St George’s Day, which happened to be the day when I went to see it. After many standing ovations, Rylance gave a great speech about how the English don’t celebrate St George’s Day because the flag and nationalism came to be associated with racism and fascism – but true Englishness does not mean any of these things.
Like Rooster, he is fighting for his own vision of England’s green and pleasant land.