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.

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