“Triumphal”, the Oxonian Review of Books declared. Trumpet-blowing in the theatre business is something to be frowned upon, particularly when (as is so often the case) it detracts from the energy a team can spend on improving their production, and when it leads to projects being picked up which would otherwise remain untouched for very sensible reasons. Nevertheless, the 5-night run of Jerusalem at Oxford’s O’Reilly Theatre this week set incredibly high boundaries for success on the performance, design, technical and finance fronts, and to see the show thrive in all four areas has been my proudest moment as a producer.
The setting, drawing almost £3500 from Commensal’s production funds and the team-member investment system which has made this group so tight-knit as a vehicle for delivering projects, included hundreds of metres of camouflage netting, an aluminium caravan and a stage worth of turf, not to mention the problems presented by the show’s two live chickens. “A carnival of sensory delights”, the show was labelled in its 5-star Oxford Student review. The heavy financial burden was worth every penny, transforming a difficult space – which includes one entirely naked concrete wall stretching up two storeys – into an English forest. When presenting the concept, it is understandable that none of the team could grasp just how real its delivery would be.
Such spending raised the bar in terms of necessary returns, and the show broke all expectations in selling out four of its five shows entirely, and drawing almost 70% capacity on its Saturday matinee. The reason for this was not pure chance, and the team built on lessons learned from Othello and ’Tis Pity, where large casts of impressive talent delivered record audiences. Similarly here, with Barney Fishwick in the lead and a cast of heavyweights in the city’s comedy and theatrical scenes, a dedicated and energetic group of talent draw audiences. They also, and this is at the heart of my pride in producing the project, delivered astonishing performances – described by a number of guests as the best student drama they had ever seen. On the final day, the cast took to the stage for almost seven hours in two performances separated by a ninety-minute break, and still drew gasps and grins from their audiences.
Official photographs from the event came from Oliver Robinson, while reviews have been published by the Oxford Student, the Oxonian Review, Cherwell and the Tab.
“Like Beckett on speed or Coward on coke, The Bard on base or Davenant on dots, Butterworth bashes out some hard-hitting-no-nonsense-quipping dialogue in his masterpiece-glance at rural England. Johnny Rooster Byron strides half-magical about his caravan-glen residing over an assorted bunch of minions. The troupe gather to enjoy a May Day of pagan abandon. Yet darker forces threaten to penetrate the amphetamine haze and dislodge Byron and his legions. Kennet and Avon Council intend to raze Rooster and his dwelling by sunset, an unstable father-in-law wants revenge, and the loyalties of Byron’s crew are increasingly suspect…
The original production opened in 2009 at The Royal Court, having received rave reviews it transferred to the West End, it then hopped the pond to Broadway and then whooped back in for one triumphal last run at Apollo. Some big boots to fill. But fill them we will with a production that ramps up both the magic and the murkiness. Featuring a live-band, live chickens, dead pheasants, flares, axes, a rave scene which will confirm the fifth dimension, and a fantasy black-tie dog sequence based around Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, this is not one to be missed.”
THIS is the writeup ahead of Jerusalem’s 5-show run at the O’Reilly Theatre, Oxford, from the 5th to the 8th November. Tickets are onsale now.
Read previews from Cherwell, The Oxford Student and The Oxford Tab.
Following negotiations with a theatre production company based in Staffordshire over the past month, the Commensal team bringing Jerusalem to the O’Reilly Theatre in Oxford have acquired this amazing aluminium stage caravan to form the centrepiece of our set. The search has once again hammered home the value of social media for creative networking, when producer Andrew Hall was contacted directly by the director of the Staffordshire Jerusalem production about his plans for staging. His generous offer was discussed carefully by director Will Felton and signed off on by technical director Sean Ford – ultimately responsible for getting the caravan, which can be extended up to 20ft, into the O’Reilly venue. The team would like to thank director Leo Carpernaros of Stone Revellers Musical Theatre for his support in providing us this opportunity, and are looking forward to putting the caravan – which has featured in a number of Jerusalem productions around the country since its creation – onstage again this autumn.
This is only one of a number of exciting developments on the project in recent weeks, as the rehearsal schedule is confirmed and the cast start working in earnest towards their November 5 opening night. Tickets will go on general sale soon; watch this space for more news as rehearsals get under way and the marketing campaign begins to hit its stride in a little over three weeks’ time.
The Commensal team are delighted to announce final casting decisions for their latest project, Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem, opening in the O’Reilly Theatre from 5th November. Amongst the twelve members are a number of previous stars on Commensal stages and other projects under Andrew’s management, including two stars of this summer’s sellout run of Othello, three members of the wildly successful ’Tis Pity cast and band, an acclaimed Cuppers director, five Fringe performers and more. The list features heavyweights of the Oxford drama scene alongside newcomers and those changing the production office for the stage boards; the production team believes such a mix of talent from a variety of past shows will lead to the perfect cast.
Jerusalem opens in November at the O’Reilly Theatre, starring Barney Fishwick, Tom Pease, Will Hislop, Tommy Siman, Sammy Glover, James Mooney, Tom Gaisford, Clemi Collett, Ellie Lowenthal, Kathy Stocker, Alice Rivers, Duncan Cornish and Andrew Dickinson.
Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem charts the life of loveable rogue Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron as he fights eviction from his secluded caravan by the local council. “Imagine King Arthur reincarnated as a troll,” quipped The Times, and you have an understanding of the main character.
As a finance structure, the backing for Jerusalem was relatively straightforward and demonstrates the benefit of maintaining a large store of capital from previous projects in securing further investment, negotiating preferable rates of return and attracting in-kind support which carries a far higher value than its financial return. With the majority of the budget already potentially covered by the proceeds from Endgame, ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore and the returns from an investment in Othello, the Commensal team were in a particularly strong position going into Jerusalem. Rather than the typical search for sufficient funds, decisions were motivated by a desire to limit exposure, while producer Andrew Hall and director Will Felton could rest safe in the knowledge that the show would not go unfunded. Moreover, by reducing their immediate exposure, Andrew was able to negotiate a finance package with outside investors, which sees them securing a healthy return on their money at above-market rate, securely backed by the disposable capital in the Commensal pot. In other words, if the play made a loss, the team would still be in a position to meet their obligations rather than default.
Such a strategy obviously gives confidence to investors, and three core backers have reduced the input from the Commensal account to a minority stake; in return, the London-based theatre company is capable of underwriting over half of their investment returns. From a personal perspective, notes the producer, the Commensal account has been a tremendously satisfying vehicle to work with in launching large-scale creative projects. Spending on ’Tis Pity was near-unprecedented for a show at Oxford’s O’Reilly Theatre, but was met with returns on the same scale and earned almost 165% of its costs back in just one week. Knowing the venue and the most economical approach to running a spectacular show in there, director Will Felton can now apply the funding package to his project without worrying about its chances of success.
Tickets for Jerusalem at the O’Reilly Theatre will go on general sale in October. Check back soon for more details.
With Tony nominations and Olivier Awards amongst its cast on hugely successful West End and Broadway shows, and having graduated from the Royal Court in 2009 with rave reviews, Jerusalem is bound to please. Stylistically, it toes the line between the guarantee of commercial success and the edgy, thought-provoking narrative of our broken-down society. From a producer’s perspective, this makes it the dream project: easily engaging enough to justify the hard work of the team, and quietly profitable enough to ensure the level of investment needed to do it justice. Driven by the lead character Johnny (“imagine King Arthur reincarnated as a troll”, was how The Times described him), a large cast can bring huge potential to a show. As the team learned on ’Tis Pity, a big group generates a wider interest within the community which makes direct marketing much easier, and the diversity of roles offers the opportunity for the project to bring new actors into the drama fold.
This will be the team’s third collaboration under the Commensal umbrella, and opens in November at the 140-seat O’Reilly Theatre, following a successful bidding process this afternoon. Will Felton returns to direct, six-time Edinburgh-fringe veteran Sean Ford is leading the technical approach and Eshan Shah returns in his role of Marketing/Production Manager after the successes of ’Tis Pity. Casting will begin next month – look out for more Jerusalem news soon.