StageScan Pick: The Ferryman

The Ferryman at the Royal Court received almost unanimous five star pro reviews. Natasha Tripney (The Stage) said Jez Butterworth’s new play “was always going to be big. And so it proves” describing an ”epic family drama… set in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles”. Michael Billington (Guardian)  found this “hot ticket… a rich, serious, deeply involving play about the shadows of the past and the power of silent love”. Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) described “a huge event… Literally… in the scale of its cast, of its ambition, of its rich themes… massive in its capacity to hold an audience rapt” and “like Jerusalem before it, an extraordinary, thrilling act of belief in the power of theatre”.

She praised its “compellingly intricate” story and found “Butterworth’s writing, both flexible and controlled, makes every moment, whether funny, tender or tragic worth leaning forward to catch”.  Tripney described a play “loaded… with close-up studies” of “over 20 characters”. Billington saw it “dramatise the intersection of politics and private life” while deriving “shattering force” from a “Hardyesque love of rural rituals and its compassionate exploration of unspoken love”, noting “many other themes coursing through this abundant play”. Crompton thought “it in its own way haunted by its past, by all the Irish plays that have gone before it” yet with “its own tone and texture”.

Tripney praised Sam Mendes for “a production of abundance” adding ”he knows how to orchestrate large group scenes” and   Billington thought it “terrific” praising its “power…a sense of the mysterious” and a “microscopic approach”. Crompton felt he “brings poetry to the most immensely detailed naturalism”. Tripney also judged it “handsomely designed”. Billington praised Rob Howell’s “antique beams and time-weathered walls” and Crompton admired  his “beautifully detailed, cluttered set”.

Tripney declared the acting “pretty spectacular all round“ and Crompton found it “so realistic that it seems to spring from the very soul of people”. Tripney found Paddy Considine’s “impressive stage debut… contained, quiet yet charismatic”. Billington saw him endow Quinn with “an unflinching integrity” and Crompton admired “extraordinary stillness and presence”. Billington thought “his brother’s wife, Caitlin, beautifully played by Laura Donnelly” and Tripney suggested she “makes the play’s heart beat”. Crompton saw in their shared scenes “a gentle grace that is utterly heart-breaking”.

She also enjoyed Dearbhla Molloy’s Pat’s “caustic wit and heart-felt passion”.  Billington praised Bríd Brennan, “eloquent in her watchful silence” and thought Des McAleer, John Hodgkinson and Stuart Graham “equally fine”. Crompton found “the children…  the most unaffected and convincing I have ever seen”.

Billington described an “engrossing and haunting play” which tells us that “the violent past can no more be suppressed” than our “private passions”. Tripney, who found it “compelling even in its quiet moments” sensed Butterworth  “repurposing some of his former tricks” but admitted “they’re brilliant tricks and that’s what all magicians do”. Crompton hailed “a triumphant, bold piece of theatre, an old-fashioned play full of life and heart and passion”.

Ends 20 May 2017, and is completely sold out, but a transfer to the Gielgud has already been announced, with tickets available from StageScan. And for more top class new writing, don’t miss This Beautiful Future.

StageScan Pick: The Treatment

The Treatment at the Almeida scored unanimous four star pro reviews. Tim Bano (The Stage) described Martin Crimp’s 1993 “satire on art” and “the artificiality that’s suffused everyday life” explaining how, in “a lurid New York City… Anne sells the story of how her husband ties her up and places tape over her mouth to two movie executives” only to see it “warped beyond recognition”. Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) saw a “depiction of a civilisation turned sour” and Aleks Sierz (Arts Desk) hailed a “satirical epic… a fabulous work” in which the “title alludes to the outline of a film…. and, crucially, to the way we treat others”. Michael Billington (The Guardian) enjoyed this “rich ambiguity” and saw “both meanings come together”. Sierz hailed “a city drama for our times… full of urban cacophony… dense with ideas” and Crompton described “a series of dislocating and dislocated scenes… both sharply funny and profoundly disturbing”. Billington enjoyed its “fascinating use of recurring motifs, especially concerning ‘vision’”.

He thought it “immaculately” and “stunningly staged” by Lyndsey Turner. Sierz found the production “beautifully lit and vividly clear” and Bano called it “crisp” with “performances and text… exposed”.  Crompton, who found it “tightly controlled” said its “dazzling darkness is held as coiled as a rattlesnake, ready to bite”.

Billington saw a “fine cast perfectly catch the characters’ internal contradictions”. Bano thought it “immaculately performed” and Crompton said: “The entire cast” display “just the right mixture of self-obsession and pain”. She felt “Aisling Loftus catches both Anne’s vulnerability and her mystery”. Billington saw her “plausibly” blend “victimised vulnerability with a savage vindictiveness” and Bano found her “stunning… full of poise, and panic… a bubbling fear”.

He praised Indira Varma equally, thinking her “at her best when sharp and dismissive”. Crompton agreed she’s “compelling as the monstrous Jennifer, who never quite understands anything but never lets it stand in her way”. Billington saw Varma and Julian Ovenden “skilfully suggest that they feed off other people to camouflage their own emotional vacancy”, while Crompton admired Ovenden’s “kind of predatory confusion”. Billington thought Matthew Needham “a compelling mix of the humdrum and the demonic”. Sierz found Ben Onwukwe’s blind cab driver “unobtrusively funny” and Ian Gelder and Gary Beadle “powerful stage presences” and Crompton praised Onwukwe, Beadle, Gelder and Ellora Torchia for “pitch perfect support”.

Sierz summed up “a brilliantly written, metaphor-rich depiction of perversion and desire” and found its “satirical barbs and darkly humorous one-liners… as fresh as ever” declaring: “Crimpland has rarely been so brittle, and so relevant.” Billington agreed it “has acquired new potency” and Bano felt it “depressingly fresh”. Crompton found it “unsettling to watch” but thought “seeing it here in so good a production makes it a mystery that it has been so little revived” concluding: “It shimmers with dark brilliance and insight. Catch it while you can.”

Booking until 10 June with tickets still available from the Almeida. And for more crackling contemporary drama, check out new play Late Company.