/West End’s Gielgud Theatre: The Ferryman (2018)

West End’s Gielgud Theatre: The Ferryman (2018)

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 of, scriptwriter Jez Butterworth’s, divided character Quinn Carney and his family life in County Armagh drew the audience and many critics, to love it.

The production, directed by Sam Mendes (who also directed the films 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 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 as Caitlin Carney.

The Ferryman - Photo by Johan Persson
The Ferryman – Photo by Johan Persson

The production is set 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.’

While this is happening, County Armagh is calm. In a large room an elderly aunt called Aunt Maggie Far Away, acted by Stella McCusker, is in an eerie trance. She wakes herself up when she is inspired to retell a story from her teenage years. At the other corner of the room are the potty-mouthed children fretting over a kite and a missing goose; it vanished from its cage overnight.  One of the 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 at 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, yet they are not.

The Irish dancing, the alcohol, swearing and recruiting of IRA can easily be read as clichés and stereotypical of the Irish, but it’s the comedy and humour of the show, which stands out the most. Undoubtedly, the Irish history was an educational lesson for me, and perhaps many others, but it was mostly a laugh in many strong scenes which are set in naturalistic and home-lit environments. The idea of being surrounded by the family is warming and assuring. The Ferryman prompts the audience to think about their 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 lives on as best she can, without a husband, and raises her troubled son in the Carneys’ household. The trigger, and pivotal point of the entire show, is the discovery of Seamus’s body in a bog. Vanishing and disappearance are prevailing themes that go in full swing in Butterworth’s play. Quinn tells his wife Mary, played by Caoimhe Farren, that she has been vanishing from their relationship and childrens’ lives ever since she became ill; she believes she is suffering from a virus – a virus that has kept her hidden upstairs for many years.

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 gripping and suspense-fuelled show. Justin Edwards’s interpretation of Tom Kettle is heartfelt and touching. He’s the Englishman who lives nearby and is ultimately loyal to the Carney family. He is as tall as a giant and softly spoken; kindly offering apples and multiple rabbits he finds in his garden to friends and strangers.

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 has a way of enticing the audience. The complexity of the story weaves the unburied truth of Seamus with the life of Quinn’s criminal past. It puts his rural life and precious family in jeopardy. Should you see The Ferryman? Without a shadow of a doubt! See it before it ends on May 19th.

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