Ten things about The Ferryman that took my breath away*
1. The wonderful, sprawling ensemble cast, led by Paddy Considine as patriarch-of-sorts Quinn Carney. I couldn’t fault a single performance and each actor gets their own moment in the limelight, but Laura Donnelly in particular shook me to my core.
2. The child actors, of whom there are four plus a baby (yes, a real baby! Delightful!). Despite being tasked with roles with real narrative weight, the young actors had impeccable comic timing, nailed Irish accents that often outshone those of the pros, and never once became annoying. A theatrical miracle.
3. The presence of multiple live animals on stage. A script filled with livestock must strike fear into the heart of any director but man did the fluffy creatures go down well with the audience.
4. The chemistry – from a romantic love triangle to familial ties and old grievances, the relationships between all the characters sang to life in vivid detail. You couldn’t help but care about them deeply from the moment they roared onto the stage.
5. The witty, quicksilver, merciless, foul-mouthed, rapid, hilarious, necessary, devastating, downright Irish dialogue. Bravo Jez Butterworth, you unstoppable genius.
6. The gorgeous set, every detail of which was chosen to plant the Carney farmhouse squarely in early 1980s rural Ireland: the traditional flagstone floor, beamed ceiling and greasy stove were thrown into sharp relief by the Rolling Stones poster taped haphazardly above the clunky stereo. The lighting subtly warmed and cooled during the action, streaming through dusty windows to replicate the changing times of day. I was so thoroughly transported that the arrival of the interval was a bit of a shock.
7. Sam Mendes’ dexterous direction, which involved not only wrangling an enormous cast (who are often all onstage at once) but also battling an array of challenges, any one of which would have stumped a lesser practitioner. From a blindfolded dancing session to an enormous family dinner, Mendes makes it look easy.
8. The music and soundscape, blending Irish folk with Teenage Kicks, wailing banshee screams fading into chirruping birdsong.
9. The politics – Butterworth uses the colourful cast of characters to provide a rounded, relevant perspective on The Troubles that never once becomes reductive or clear-cut. The storytelling is both sharply rooted in a particular time and place and almost mythic in scope, with an ominous sense of inevitability.
10. Seeing a smiley Mark Rylance ordering wine from the Royal Court bar before the show, chatting politely to fellow audience members. A good omen if ever I knew one.
*I know it’s a bit of a cop out to do a listicle review but the truth is I’m still reeling from this thunderbolt of a play. I’m not sure how to do it justice and I don’t want to give too much away – the plot unfurls slowly and mercilessly, with twists, turns and Chekhov’s guns galore. Go, watch and enjoy.
The Ferryman runs at The Royal Court until 20th May, before transferring to the Gielgud Theatre where it runs from 20th June to 7th October.