The Ferryman, at the Royal Court Theatre (review)

It’s a daunting prospect, trying to encapsulate in a few hundred words why I am giving my first five star review to The Ferryman.  On the pedigree of Jez Butterworth, Sam Mendes and Paddy Considine in his stage debut, it had sold out long before it began its run at the Royal Court, and a transfer to the West End secured. For me and many others, the excitement was justified.

Every audience member is rapt for this three-acter with a running time of 3 hours 15 minutes. The cast is 20-strong and includes live animals and children, all of whom (particularly the humans, even the baby) are extremely impressive. Considine plays Quinn Carney, the patriarch of a farming family in Co Armagh in 1981, at the height of the Irish hunger strikes.  The action takes place in the hub of the farmhouse, the kitchen, beautifully and realistically set, with a window to the left out of which you can see the darkness falling and then morning coming again.  On the right, a steep staircase reaches up to the higher storey and we meet the different generations of the family as they flit up and down these stairs. It is harvest day; they have the goose to catch and preparations to be made.  The family is expecting some cousins; they will feast and drink together later.

ferryman pic

We know from the first scene, however, that a man who had disappeared ten years ago has been found dead. We also know that this is not going to end well. In between those two points is part love story, part tragedy and as the scenes unfold before us we encounter a mixture of love, grief and violence as the family members live through an ordeal of a day.

Standout performances are everywhere you look but I was particularly drawn to Uncle Pat (played by Des McAleer – be careful as there is also an Aunt Pat), Caitlin Carney (Laura Donnelly) and the young cousin Shane Corcoran (Tom Glynn-Carney). As the family choose to dance together rather than eat their harvest goose, young Shane changes the music and puts on The Undertones, Derry’s own homegrown band. As Teenage Kicks blares out from the transistor radio, we catch a powerful glimpse of Shane’s teenage angst as he skips and shouts to the song. It’s not long before we hear tales of his bravado and of his encounters with Muldoon (Stuart Graham) who has had him scouting for the IRA.  It is only one tale of the many that are told by and about the Carney/Corcoran family and we are caught up in these personal stories which mix with the national history. The secrets and stories and magic wrapped up in this period of Irish history end up colliding and changing this family to its very core.

It’s not every day that you get the chance to see a new, important play by Butterworth, directed by Mendes with this five star cast. Rather than do the production justice with my words, I highly recommend that you do your best to get a ticket for The Ferryman in its onward run at the Gielgud.

hattydaze rating: *****/*****

I saw The Ferryman thanks to a press ticket from the Royal Court Theatre. The Ferryman has closed at the Royal Court but is booking now for its transfer to the Gielgud Theatre from 20th June.  Ticket information here.


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