The Ferryman from the mind of Jez Butterworth’s Northern

It only took one day for The Ferryman to sell out at The Royal Court Theatre last year. The thrilling play, about the political and psychological upheaval that befall scriptwriter Jez Butterworth’s divided character Quinn Carney and his family life in County Armagh, drew many critics and audiences to love it.

The production, directed by Sam Mendes — the same director who gave us Skyfall and American Beauty — received critical acclaim. The Ferryman transferred to the West End’s Gielgud Theatre immediately after the Royal Court had finished its run.

Sold out tickets meant that many, including myself, didn’t get the chance to see the original Quinn Carney who was performed by English actor Paddy Considine. Yet, I had the chance to see the new cast at the Gielgud Theatre last night with Owen McDonnell playing Quinn, Justin Edwards performing as Tom Kettle and Rosalie Craig taking on the role of Caitlin Carney.

The Ferryman - Photo by Johan Persson

The Ferryman – Photo by Johan Persson

The production is set back in 1981 — the timeline of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. While the Carneys’ farmhouse are preparing for the harvest, Bobby Sands, a member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is on hunger strike and imprisoned at HM Prison Maze. Overlooking him is the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stating, ‘we are not prepared to consider special category status for certain groups of people serving sentences for crime. Crime is crime is crime.’

In one large room, an elderly aunt called Aunt Maggie Far Away, acted by Stella McCusker, is in an eerie trance, bringing her spirit up when she is inspired to retell a past story from her teenage years. At the other corner of the room are the potty-mouthed children fretting over a kite and the missing goose that had vanished overnight. Even one of Quinn’s daughters believes she is the Queen of Egypt. Then there’s Uncle Patrick, performed by Mark Lambert, who gives another interpretation of his rogue past after a drip of whiskey past eight o’ clock in the morning. In the midst of it all, when no one is looking, Quinn and his sister-in-law Caitlyn dance blindfolded. It’s as if they are long-term lovers. But they are not.

The Irish dancing, the alcohol, swearing and recruiting of IRA can easily be read as clichés and stereotypes of the Irish, but it’s the comedy and humour, which stands out the most. The historical element is an educational lesson to me. Although it’s mostly a laugh in many strong scenes, most of which are naturalistic and set at home. The idea of being surrounded by your immediate family is warming and secure. The Ferryman prompts us to think about our own family.

Stella McCusker, Scarlett Nunes, Saoirse-Monica Jackson, Angel O’Callaghan and Zazie Hayhurst. @ Johan Persson

Quinn hasn’t seen his brother, Seamus, in more than 10 years. Seamus is Caitlyn’s husband who carries on living as best she can, despite raising her son without a father. The trigger is the discovery of Seamus’s body in a bog. The notion of ‘disappearance’ goes in full swing at the house of the Carneys. Quinn tells his wife Mary, played by Caoimhe Farren, that she has been ‘vanishing’ with a virus for years upstairs in her bedroom, and that’s just one example. Disappearance and ‘vanishing’ is ubiquitous in Butterworth’s play.

The collective effort from more than 20 characters, which doesn’t include the rabbit, the geese or the new-born baby, conjure many magical tricks throughout the suspense-filled show. Justin Edwards’s interpretation of Tom Kettle is touching and heartfelt. He’s the Englishman who lives nearby and is ultimately loyal to Carneys. He is as tall as a giant and softly spoken to the family, offering apples and multiple rabbits, which he finds in his garden.

It’s hard to say if the new cast were just as good as the original production, but why should it matter? What I saw was a boisterous and profound piece of theatre that captured a multitude of events and an array of emotions condensed into three hours and 20 minutes. Despite the length, it’s the absorbing and witty way the storytelling unfolds which entices audiences. The base complexity weaves the unburied truth of Seamus with the life of Quinn’s ugly past, which puts his rural life and precious family in jeopardy. Should you see The Ferryman? Without a shadow of a doubt, yes, you should. See it before it ends on May 19th.

Tickets are available from £15. Click here for London Box, where you can get your tickets now.


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