Exploring the greatest new and classic plays


079 – The Hills of California, by Jez Butterworth

Apr 19, 2024 | Podcast Episodes | 0 comments

It is the Summer of 1976, and Britain is sweltering through record heat and sunshine. The proprietress of the Seaview guest house in Blackpool lies dying upstairs, and her three, possibly four, daughters are coming together to say goodbye to her. This is the setting of The Hills of California, a new play by Jez Butterworth, which as we record this episode is playing at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London

A new play by Jez Butterworth is a theatrical event. He has written eight plays over the past 30 years, including his breakout hit Mojo, The River, The Ferryman, and most famously Jerusalem, which we covered in episode 50 of the podcast. As in his last play, The Ferryman, The Hills of California is a multi-generational family drama that features a large ensemble cast. Do not be misled by the play’s title, however, as we are not in sunny California, but in the baking back-streets of Blackpool. The Hills of California, as described in Johnny Mercer’s song of the same name, stands in for a far-away dream for Veronica and her four daughters in Blackpool.

The play alternates between the daughters’ reunion in 1976 as their mother is dying, and scenes from their childhood back in 1955, when Veronica had dreams of molding her four girls into a famous singing troupe in the model of the Andrews Sisters. She drills them in song and dance routines, determined that one day they will perform at the London Palladium or even Carnegie Hall. Needless to say, things don’t turn out as they’d all hoped for. The play is a portrait of lost dreams, of deeply ingrained patterns of love and hurt within a family, and of suppressed and mutable memories.

I am joined to explore this major new play by Dr Sean McEvoy, who is a Fellow in English at Murray Edwards College at the University of Cambridge. Sean is the author of Class, Culture and Tragedy in the Plays of Jez Butterworth published in 2021, and a great fan of his work.

Listen to our episode on Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem here:
050 Jerusalem


Sean McEvoy

Dr Sean McEvoy is a Fellow in English at Murray Edwards College at the University of Cambridge. Sean has taught drama at sixth form, undergrad and post-grad levels, as well as published books on Shakespeare (Shakespeare – The Basics), Tragedy (Tragedy – The Basics), and riots on the stage (Theatrical Unrest: Ten Riots in the History of the Stage 1601-2004), but most importantly for our purposes he is the author of Class, Culture and Tragedy in the Plays of Jez Butterworth published in 2021.


Recommended Play

Sean recommended Bingo by Edward Bond.

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