Review – The Ferryman, Royal Court

Monday 1 May 2017

Having barely recovered from the 11.45pm curtain of Angels in America Part 2, Phil arrived at The Ferryman to discover a running time of 3 hours 20 minutes.

Playwrights seem to have an awful lot to say for themselves.

This is Jez Butterworth‘s latest epic. The fastest-selling play in Royal Court Theatre history apparently. A June transfer to The Gielgud was announced well ahead of any previews.

Is this the 42nd Street of straight plays? There’s a cast of over 20 and that’s not counting the novelty performer and wildlife. Sam Mendes’ production is bursting at the seams. Very extravagant. A couple of the cast were such theatrical firsts for Phil that he forgot to listen to the words whenever they were on stage. So much could go wrong. If one were a cynical type one might think it a gimmick to generate headlines.

It is 1981. Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine) lives in rural Derry with his wife Mary (Genevieve O’Reilly) and extended family; more extensions (The Corcorans) arrive to help bring in the harvest. The stage farmhouse is so busy Phil couldn’t help thinking of the Victoria Wood bingo sketch, “Well, we’ve got a full house since Will come home, don’t go shouting about it”.

Quinn’s brother went missing years ago and his remains have just been discovered in a bog. This is not a spoiler, it’s established pretty much from the off. Three men turn up unexpectedly during the Carney harvest celebrations to make a deal with Quinn. Phil will leave it to the real critics to give away the surprises when they deliver their verdicts. We suggest you don’t look at the cast list until the interval.

It’s Ireland so we are supplied with both an Uncle Pat and and Aunt Pat. Uncle Pat (Des McAleer) drones on with dreary stories until hunger-strikers supporter, Aunt Pat (Dearbhla Molloy) nips them in the bud. Aunt Maggie Far Away (Brid Brennan) is interrogated by the kiddies to reveal family back stories. She’s obsessed with banshees and not because she’s suffering a Siouxsie Sioux earworm. Creepy sound effects suggest something’s brewing and there’s a constant nagging that things may become more violent than even a United Airlines flight.

The Carney’s have kissed an awful lot of Blarney and they’ll break into song when they’re not breaking into dance. Even mid-meal. Food goes uneaten. Sister-in-law Caitlin Carney (Laura Donnelly), who cooked the feast, should be very pissed off. Phil would be if his guests got up to jig around mid-roast.

Sam Mendes has his work cut out choreographing this crowd and all their doings, both domestic and dastardly, yet he’s marshalled things splendidly. Some trimming wouldn’t go amiss, especially in the last Act. The set dressing during the blackout between Acts 2 and 3 needs speeding up too. Though Phil found a curious pleasure watching stagehands wandering around checking their clipboard lists. The children and Mr Considine need to enunciate more distinctly, but this was an early preview so no doubt all will be sorted. It’s occasionally creepy (spooky sound effects) and shocking but much more importantly it’s also very funny.

As in Butterworth’s Jerusalem there are more myth metaphors and it seems to suggest that it’s not just ideologies that attract the young to causes. Tourism* parallels will be drawn.

Look out for Tom Glynn-Carney (who is not a Carney but one of the Corcoran harvesters) as name to watch. “Watch” being the significant word here – as his watch is significant. He stands out amongst a very good cast.

Enormously entertaining though hopefully Phil’s next play will be 80 minutes with no interval. And look out for one of the beers in the Court’s bar which is appropriately themed to one of the more unusual ‘performers’. Phil thought it only right to try one

*Sorry, we May have meant terrorism.



4 Responses to “Review – The Ferryman, Royal Court”

  1. Greg Kitchin Says:

    Thanks for your review (the only one I’ve actually found). I’m in no position to watch the show (living on the other side of the country), but it and Jerusalem caught my attention, so am glad to find more info about it.

  2. John O'Byrne Says:

    Have just returned from the Gielgud very disappointed with The Ferryman. Too long, sub-Friel, lot of the dialogue risible. Got a standing ovation! Jeez!

  3. John A Says:

    I booked this on the strength of Jerusalem. Sadly, not a patch on that.

  4. Andy Says:

    The final set change before the last act makes no sense. Why is it done? Everybody that would have moved stuff is asleep or drunk or searching the countryside. There’s nobody in the story that could have moved everything. Maybe it was the banchees, or Westminster Council health and safety? That set change blights the last act, of a staggeringly great play. ( I’ve seen it 3 times)

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