Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Ginger and Rooster

Red-haired Robbie Newton's Ginger and a pith helmeted Rooster Byron


Sutton Arts Theatre


If ever you need a play to divide an audience, then this is it. It is theatrical Marmite, as could be seen by the cheers and rapturous applause at the end . . . and a few forsaken seats after the interval.

Not that Jez Butterworth’s 2009 celebrated play is avant-garde, or even awash with sex or nudity – its leading character in a vest is hardly going to excite life’s voyeurs – but it is designed to shock, an in-yer-face assault on sensibilities.

For a start it draws heavily on, should we say, middle English, industrial language and on an industrial scale, a surfeit of foreign and colonials as one might say, and, perhaps even more disturbing, it exposes the futility, and vacuous lives of too many of the population.

The story is simple and opens, on the eve of St George’s Day with a fairy singing Jerusalem – all right it’s not that simple, but bear with me – and a drug and booze fuelled party at Johnny “Rooster” Byron’s caravan deep in the woods on the outskirts of Flintock, a village in Wiltshire.

I say caravan because that is what it once was, but it, and Rooster, haven’t moved in more than a quarter of a century, they have aged, disgracefully, to become an eyesore and the scourge of the village, even an embarrassment now a new estate has been built 400 yards away.

Rooster is regarded as a gypo, a pikey, or at least those are some of the less offensive names the villagers call him. He regards himself to be of Romany blood and, bizarrely, claims to the only man ever to be conceived in two different postcodes – a story so tall it is snow-capped.

Whether Romany or not, after weeks of ignoring notices and summons, Rooster is finally served with an eviction notice from the council – the bulldozers and police are massing, but as he has done for years, Rooster ignores them all, for he is an Englishman and an Englishman’s home is his castle, even if it is an illegal campsite more akin to a rubbish dump.

It is a stellar performance by Stuart Goodwin as Rooster, a huge cockerel tattoo on his arm. Rooster is a strange mix, charismatic, enigmatic, a teller of tall tales, arrogant, at times mischievous, lives life with a swagger, harboring past glories as a once daring motorcycle daredevil . . . perhaps . . . who has been barred from every pub in the village, the latest the one run by his long time mate from childhood,Wes. He has a philosophy on life which is part anarchy, part harking back to an England of knights and fighting dragons, and part . . . well . . . Rooster.


Keyleigh Alison as Tanya, Jack Heaven as Lee and Charlotte Wallis as Pea

We are not entirely sure where Rooster’s booze money comes from. He talks of painting jobs which seem to involve dipping more than his brush, and, perhaps more likely, he deals in drugs, selling to all and sundry, including underage girls.

It is a massive part, full of wild emotions and wide-eyed tales, a bleak hero or anti-hero depending upon which side of the wood you are from

His closest friend is Ginger, another fine performance from Robbie Newton who has died his hair red for the part. Ginger is the oldest of Rooster's “educational sub-normal outcasts” as he calls them. Still living in Rooster’s shadow, despite now being more of an afterthought then best mate. Ginger was not invited to the party – a party which Rooster denies ever took place, despite everyone, as they appeared, telling him how he missed it. He is a sort of the outsider of the group.

Ginger has never really grown out of the adolescent years and calls himself a DJ, except he has no gigs, and is really an unemployed plasterer.

Then there is Dave, played by Oliver Farrelly. In another life he could be normal but at the caravan he finds escape from a life that is humdrum at best. He works at the abattoir, his life measured in terms of cows slaughtered, Pot Noodles for lunch, weekends on the lash and broke by Tuesdays. He is an insular soul who cannot even comprehend leaving Wiltshire

Lee, played by Jack Heaven, is . . . well Lee. He is off to Australia the next day . . . possibly. He has 200 Australian Dollars, has never been abroad before, and wants to find his spiritual self and a load of other stuff on the other side of the world. His travel plans are somewhat vague, but start, and possibly continue, by bus. He appears from behind an old settee where he has slept off the party.

Pea, played by Charlotte Wallis and Tanya, Keyleigh Alison, are young girls who appear from under the caravan, also party survivors.

They are hardly shrinking violets with Tanya generously offering what we might euphemistically call one for the road to the soon to be departing Lee. The fact the young girls are drinking, taking drugs and are out all night, with no thoughts of going home or anyone looking for them, says much for the families they live in.


Oliver Farrelly as Dave, Ginger, Rooster and Lee with the dilapidated caravan in the background watch a video of the party Rooster claims never happened

A link with the more respectable villagers comes in the shape of Wesley, the latest publican to bar Rooster. Wesley, played by Dexter Whitehead, has been roped into a group of Morris men by the brewery, to perform at the Flintock Village St George’s Day Carnival, which the brewery is sponsoring. His bells and hankies dance is hard to forget, no matter how hard you try. Wes can’t half talk fast on drugs though.

Then there is the Professor, played with an eccentric air by Andrew Tomlinson. He is a sort of avuncular neighbour, a lonely old man, clinging to the harmless friendship of Rooster and his group, spouting historical anecdotes and quoting literary works which, in truth, sound learned, but are mostly nonsense.

Into this bucolic scene a shadow falls in the shape of Troy, the local thug, played with an air of angry menace by Dave Thane. His 15-year-old daughter, Phaedra, played by Leah Fennell, last year’s carnival queen, has gone missing, and Troy suspects Rooster is involved. The animosity between the two is palpable and long standing, sowing the seeds of a climax to come. Perhaps there is more to the disappearance than we are told though. When Troy is accused of sexually abusing her there is no denial, merely a change of approach.

With the council workers, Mrs Fawcett, played by Joanne Ellis, in a role shared with Stephanie Miles, and Mr Parsons, played by Gary Pritchard, finally getting their man then you might think the plot is complete, but that would not be Rooster’s style, so enter Dawn, played by Faye Hatch, mother to Marky, played by William Robbins, Rooster’s son.

Here we see another side of Rooster, a side we knew all along was probably there, as he tells Dawn something has come up, which we all know is a lie, so he can’t take Marky to the fair as he had promised, giving the disappointed six-year-old a tenner as a substitute for a father.

Later he gives Marky a whole speech of utter claptrap about being an Englishman and a Byron, with the rarest of blood, another tale of fantasy, which will see him though life, a speech worthy of a penny dreadful, Hollywood low budget, second rate B-movie King Arthur.

Rooster’s world is collapsing around him and he can no longer cope, beating his drum to call non-existent giants in a dramatic, inevitable finale.

The play has some wonderfully funny lines and moments, particularly in the first act - the thought of a young lad trying to barter his sister’s tortoise for drugs is a gem; after the interval it becomes a little more serious - and we finally find out what has happened to Phaedra . . . There are still laughs, but underpinned by a sense of hopelessness, of lives going nowhere but downhill, a future even more empty than the past.  Personal scenes of broken dreams and lost hopes.


Rooster has taken on the world and lost as the climax approaches


Which is perhaps what makes it relevant and, dare we say it, hints of Brexit, with Rooster’s claim to be a real Englishman, defending the real England. These are people who have been passed by, in dead end jobs, or no jobs at all, lives with no glamour, no purpose, living on the margins, only finding escape in drugs and drink in a pale, bleak, imitation of the free love promise of the 60s. Then it was a movement to change the world, the dawning of the age of Aquarius, here it is merely a chance to hide from the real world, to forget.

Even the new housing estate which Rooster and his band could never afford – except Pea who lives there – emphasises the have and have nots society they live in.

We can see their like around us. laughing and swearing, whiling away empty evenings in bus shelters, playgrounds, anywhere to gather, places for people with nowhere to go, nothing to do, left with what Aneurin Bevan called poverty of ambition. It is a powerful play, and, at three hours a long one, with the third act, in particular, perhaps a little drawn out. Although it is beautifully acted by Goodwin, Rooster is no Lear.

Director Emily Armstrong has chosen a difficult and demanding play which is rude, even' at times' crude and talks of sex as something as casual, and meaningless as smoking or drinking, it is disconcerting to watch, even uncomfortable at times, and is a play which will inevitably divide audiences – my wife and I among them.

Armstrong has kept it firmly on track, preserving both the power and the humour. Profanity is delivered as normal, everyday speech, which is what it was for the characters portrayed. No hint of embarrassment or self-consciousness. Just tell it like it is.

Mark Nattrass’s set is a masterpiece with a decrepit caravan in a woodland glade, and as I have said many times. I cannot help but wonder at how such magnificent sets are created in such an unpromising space with no wings or flies – although a 13-strong set building team probably helps.

Lighting, from Stephen Curran and Armstrong with techno parties, night, dawn, drama and climax to cope with, adds to the production as does Armstrong’s sound stage.

This is an important play of the new century, a state of the nation comedy with a dark underbelly, which is a depressing indictment on society. It will shock, has no feelgood factor to speak of, and has more profanity than any play I can remember – and that includes Glengarry Glen Ross and reviewing at the Royal Court in the 60s and 70s.

But it does have superb acting on a superb set in a hard-hitting play that will make you laugh and despair in equal measure. To 23-03-19

Roger Clarke


Robbie Newton dyed his hair for the show and now wants paying  . . sort of. The cast have decided to do something for charity and as a friend of the cast was diagnosed with Myeloma last year and Myeloma UK ( has a colour theme of orange, it seemed a perfect fit.

Myeloma is an incurable blood cancer which can be successfully treated or controlled but is always there and likely to return.

Newton has set up a Just Giving page hoping to reach a target of £300 Click Here for Robbie's Just Giving Page 

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