Jez Butterworth

Plays by Jez Butterworth

The Ferryman

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Jez Butterworth's play The Ferryman is about a family whose life on a farm in rural Northern Ireland is disrupted when the past comes back to haunt them. It was first performed at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on 24 April 2017, and subsequently transferred to the Gielgud Theatre in the West End on 20 June 2017.

The play is set in rural County Armagh, Northern Ireland, in late August 1981.

A short Prologue, set the previous day in Derry, establishes the context: the body of Seamus Carney, who disappeared on New Year's Day 1972, when he was twenty years old, has been discovered in a peat bog in County Louth, just across the border; he had been shot in the head, apparently in retribution for his defection from the IRA. Now Seamus's widow, Caitlin, and their son, Oisin, live under the same roof as Seamus's brother, Quinn, a man who has had his own associations with the IRA, but who has long devoted himself to maintaining the family farm, as well as looking after his ailing wife Mary and their six children. Amongst the household too are Quinn’s uncle Pat, and his aunts, Patricia and Maggie, the one a staunch and bitter Irish republican, the other a gentle soul whose long silences are broken by voluble outbursts. Also present is an English factotum, Tom Kettle, a man of slow wits, but whose seemingly bottomless pockets provide amusement for the Carney children. Through it all, Quinn harbours an unspoken love for Caitlin as the family go about observing their ritual harvest celebrations, only to find their lives upended by the arrival of IRA power figure, Muldoon, out to prevent any further damage to the Republican cause resulting from the discovery of Seamus's body.

The premiere production of The Ferryman was directed by Sam Mendes and designed by Rob Howell. It was performed by Turlough Convery, Eugene O’Hare, Gerard Horan, Stuart Graham, Paddy Considine (as Quinn Carney), Laura Donnelly (as Caitlin Carney), Elise Alexandre, Meibh Campbell, Darcey Conway, Angel O’Callaghan, Clara Murphy, Bríd Brennan, Carla Langley, Des McAleer, Niall Wright, Sophia Ally, Grace Doherty, Rob Malone, Dearbhla Molloy, John Hodgkinson, Fra Fee, Genevieve O’Reilly, Tom Glynn-Carney, Conor MacNeill, Michael McCarth and Xavier Moras Spencer.


Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Jerusalem, a bold comic vision of life in contemporary rural England, was first performed at the Royal Court, London, on 10 July 2009. Following ecstatic critical reception, it transferred to the Apollo Theatre in the West End on 28 January 2010, with The Guardian hailing the play as ‘unarguably one of the best dramas of the twenty-first century.’

On St George’s Day, the morning of the local country fair, officials from Kennet and Avon Council come to evict Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron. An ex-stunt driving Romany, Johnny lives in a battered mobile home in a Wessex wood opposite a new estate, dealing drugs, telling yarns and attracting a motley crew of wastrels and youngsters. Adding to his troubles, Dawn, the mother of his six-year-old son Marky, pays him a visit, berating him for his inability to live up to his responsibilities as a parent. On top of which, the young May Queen due to appear at the fair has gone missing, and Troy, her father, holds Johnny responsible. Through it all, Johnny remains defiant, claiming a mystical affinity with the ancient giants who once inhabited England.

The Royal Court production was directed by Ian Rickson and designed by Ultz. The cast was led by Mark Rylance as Johnny 'Rooster' Byron in a mesmerisingly physical performance that did much to create the play's legendary status.

The play opened on Broadway on 21 April 2011 at the Music Box Theatre, following previews from 2 April 2011, with Mark Rylance again in the lead role. It returned to the West End in London, playing at the Apollo from 8 October 2011 until 14 January 2012.

Jerusalem won the Evening Standard Best Play Award and the Critics Circle and awards for Best New Play.


Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A short monologue first performed as part of the Ten by Twenty season at Atlantic Stage 2, the Atlantic Theater, New York, on 14 June 2006.

Ken’s dog Dolly has gone missing. Without her, all he’s left with are his fading memories and the sound of the sea for comfort.

Leavings was performed at the Atlantic Theater by Peter Maloney and directed by Neil Pepe.


Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A slick, violent black comedy set in the Soho clubland of the1950s, Mojo premiered at the Royal Court, London, on 14 July 1995. It was a sensational debut, billed as the first time since John Osborne's Look Back in Anger that a first play was premiered on the Royal Court's main stage – though in fact Butterworth had co-written several earlier plays and a short film, The Night of the Golden Brain (Carlton, 1994).

The play is set in Ezra's Atlantic Club in Soho during the summer of 1958. Silver Johnny, Ezra's seventeen-year-old rock 'n' roll protégé, is causing a sensation at the club. Two petty crooks, Sweets and Potts, high on amphetamines, introduce us to this criminal milieu. They are joined by two others, Skinny, and Baby, who is Ezra's son. Baby enjoys tormenting, even torturing, Skinny. While the youngsters mess about, a local gangster, Sam Ross, kills Ezra, and takes Silver Johnny. Terrified, the gang, now led by Mickey (Ezra's number two) barricade themselves in the club and prepare for an attack. Although he is Ezra's son and heir, Baby realises that Mickey is now in charge and suggests they run the club together, but Mickey rejects him. In the power struggle that ensues, Baby demonstrates that he's more than a match for Mickey – and nobody escapes unscathed.

The Royal Court premiere, directed by Ian Rickson and designed by Ultz, starred Tom Hollander as Baby, with Andy Serkis as Potts, Matt Bardock as Sweets, Aiden Gillen as Skinny, and David Westhead as Mickey. The production was restaged in October 1996 with a new cast at the Royal Court's temporary base at the Duke of York's Theatre in the West End.

Critical reception was generally enthusiastic, although some perceived a moral void at the heart of the story, and the play was widely compared with the films of Quentin Tarantino and the plays of Harold Pinter.

Mojo won the Olivier, Evening Standard, George Devine, Critics' Circle and Writers' Guild awards. Versions of the play were produced in New York, Chicago, Johannesburg and Sydney, its popularity making it one of the most significant plays of the decade.

The Naked Eye

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A short monologue that was first performed as part of the 10 x 25 season at Atlantic Stage 2, the Atlantic Theater, New York, on 1 June 2011.

A family gears up to catch Halley’s Comet as it passes through the night sky, knowing that it won't be back for another hundred years.

The Naked Eye was performed at the Atlantic Theater by Zosia Mamet and directed by Neil Pepe.

The Night Heron

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A darkly comic play about a group of outcasts gathered in the Cambridgeshire fens, The Night Heron was Jez Butterworth's first play to be staged after his debut, Mojo (Royal Court, 1995). Premiered at the Royal Court on 11 April 2002, it is shot through with eccentric black humour, symbolism, religious fanaticism and evocative natural imagery.

Sacked from their jobs as gardeners at a Cambridge college, Wattmore and Griffin are holed up in their isolated cabin in the marshes. Wattmore is a suicidal religious fanatic while Griffin is a more down-to-earth criminal type; bound together by mutual need and exasperation, they behave like an old married couple. To make money, they rent a room to Bolla, a female ex-con. Then it turns out that Wattmore is being blackmailed for a paedophile act, and that he believes Bolla is a witch. Griffin tries to raise money to pay off the blackmail by mugging people in the marshes, while Bolla aims to help her hosts win a poetry competition by kidnapping a Cambridge student. Finally, a local religious sect, led by Dougal, arrives and attempts to discover if Wattmore and Bolla are embodiments of evil. Hovering over the action is the visit of a night heron, a rare bird which attracts attention to the area.

The Royal Court premiere was directed, like Mojo before it, by Ian Rickson, who by 2002 was the Royal Court's artistic director. It was designed by Ultz, and starred Karl Johnson as Wattmore, Ray Winstone as Griffin and Jessica Stevenson as Bolla.

Parlour Song

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

A play about deceit, paranoia and murderous desire in leafy suburbia, Parlour Song was first performed at the Atlantic Theater, New York, on 15 Febraury 2008, before receiving its European premiere at the Almeida Theatre, London, on 19 March 2009.

Demolition expert Ned lives with his wife Joy in a newly built house in a new estate on the edge of the English countryside. Their relationship is under strain and, after Ned confides in his neighbour Dale, Dale has an affair with Joy. At the same time, Ned is tormented by the mysterious disappearance of various prized possessions from his home, from gold cufflinks to a tandem bicycle. But while Dale and Joy's plan to run away together is never realised, Ned, haunted by surreal delusions, harbours murderous feelings towards his wife.

The play's Atlantic Theater premiere was directed by Neil Pepe, with Jonathan Cake as Dale, Chris Bauer as Ned and Emily Mortimer as Joy.

The Almeida Theatre production was directed by Ian Rickson, with Andrew Lincoln as Dale, Toby Jones as Ned and Amanda Drew as Joy.

The River

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

The River was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on 18 October 2012. An intensely allusive, non-linear psychodrama, it was Jez Butterworth's first major play to be performed since Jerusalem (2009), which had also premiered at the Royal Court and had gone on to become a huge critical and commercial hit.

On a moonless night in August when the sea trout are ready to run, a man brings his new girlfriend to the remote family cabin where he has come for the fly-fishing since he was a boy. But she's not the only woman he has brought here – or indeed the last.

Like Jerusalem, The River was directed by Ian Rickson and designed by Ultz. The cast was led by Dominic West, an actor with star credentials from his lead performance in the HBO television series The Wire (2002–08). The production was staged in the Royal Court's smaller Upstairs venue, and tickets were released only on the day of each performance: decisions for which the Royal Court was criticised in some parts of the media. The production was nonetheless a critical success, with most critics praising the play's enigmatic, lyrical qualities and its craftsmanship.

The River received its Broadway premiere at Broadway's Circle in the Square Theatre on 16 November 2014 in a production directed by Ian Rickson, starring Hugh Jackman, Laura Donnelly and Cush Jumbo.

The Winterling

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

The Winterling was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on 2 March 2006. Written with Jez Butterworth's characteristic flair, it is full of black humour, menace and mind-games.

In a dilapidated farmhouse on Dartmoor, West is waiting. A former gangster in exile from London, he has summoned his old associates, Wally and Jerry. But Jerry is dead, and Wally brings along his twenty-five-year-old stepson, Patsy, as a replacement. A territorial struggle rapidly develops as, towards the end of the first act, West interrogates Patsy about a nearby ancient hillfort. Patsy asks West about a young woman he has glimpsed at the window. Act Two jumps back a year and shows West, as a broken man, meeting Draycott, a vagrant who lives in the farmhouse. Through him, he meets Lue, an unusual young woman. It emerges that West was once a hitman, and that he was tortured by Wally and Jerry for falling asleep on a job. He dispossesses Draycott and makes a deal with Lue. Act Three returns to the present, with West, Patsy and Wally all attempting to outmaneuver each other, and West finds himself locked into a deadly game for his own survival.

The Royal Court premiere was directed by Ian Rickson and designed by Ultz, with Robert Glenister as West, Roger Lloyd Pack as Draycott, Jerome Flynn as Wally, Daniel Mays as Patsy and Sally Hawkins as Lue.

Picture of Jez Butterworth

© Henrietta Butler

Jez Butterworth is an English playwright, screenwriter and film director. His debut play Mojo premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in 1995 and was directed by Ian Rickson. It went on to win the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and the George Devine Award. In 2009, Jerusalem premiered at the Royal Court, again directed by Ian Rickson, and with Mark Rylance in the lead role of Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron. The production transferred to the West End and Broadway, then finally back to the West End, totaling almost a thousand performances.

Jez Butterworth’s other plays include The Night Heron (2002) and The Winterling (2006) for the Royal Court Theatre; Parlour Song (Atlantic Theater, New York, 2008 and Almeida Theatre, London, 2009) and The River (Royal Court Theatre, 2012 starring Dominic West, and Broadway, 2014 starring Hugh Jackman). Mojo was revived at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London’s West End in 2013 starring Ben Whishaw and Rupert Grint.

His film work includes the adaptation of Mojo (1998); Birthday Girl (2002); Fair Game (2010) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014).

In 2007 he was awarded the E.M. Forster Award by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.