How to build a new Jerusalem in an 85-seat theatre

Jez Butterworth's hit play caused a transatlantic stampede – and it won't be easy to catch his new work either

The award-winning playwright Jez Butterworth is to return to London's Royal Court Theatre for the first time since the sell-out success of his work, Jerusalem. And, given the transatlantic triumphs of his last offering, there will be plenty of people keen to see his newest show. Yet the venue has made the surprise decision not to sell tickets in advance, and to use a theatre which seats fewer than 100 people for each performance.

Butterworth's latest work, The River, reunites the same creative team that made Jerusalem. The Royal Court's outgoing artistic director, Dominic Cooke, announced the playwright's return while unveiling a new season which will include plays by Caryl Churchill and Martin Crimp. He said the new works were "a rare and thrilling prospect". "These are writers who have reshaped the theatrical landscape and challenged us to imagine ourselves in new ways," he said.

The River – billed as a "bewitching" tale involving a remote cabin on the cliffs, a man and a woman, and a moonless night – will be performed in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, which seats only 85 or 86 people.

The decision will disappoint many theatre-goers but a spokesman defended staging the play upstairs, rather than in the 400-seater main theatre, saying it was "intimate" and better suited to the smaller space. "We are a writer's theatre," she said. "It could have gone in downstairs and more people could have seen it and it could have been more commercial, but it was what was in the play's best interests."

There will be no advance tickets for the month-long run from 18 October. Instead, they be will be sold the day of performance, including online bookings at 9am and in person at the box office from 10am. The theatre has confirmed there will be at least 30 tickets for sale online and at least 30 in person each day to give as many people as possible the chance to see the work.

Jerusalem, starring Mark Rylance as Johnny "Rooster" Byron and Mackenzie Crook, debuted in the Royal Court in 2009 and received rave reviews. It moved to the West End before transferring to Broadway. Rylance was named best actor at the Olivier and Tony Awards. Butterworth wrote his first play, I Believe In Love, in 1992. Three years later Mojo premiered at the Royal Court, winning awards including the Olivier for best new comedy. Jerusalem was his fourth play at the theatre. He has also written several films.

The autumn programme includes Churchill's Love And Information, In The Republic of Happiness by Crimp, and NSFW by Lucy Kirkwood.

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