The Ferryman at the Royal Court Theatre review *****


The Ferryman

Royal Court Theatre, 11th May 2017

Right then. For once the tourist finds himself not seeing a performance near the end of the run, casting off his usual workshy approach to blog posting and sufficiently motivated to rave about something.

So just to say THIS IS FECKING OUTSTANDING. If anything beats this to play of the year it is going to have to work very hard. I confess (and the SO agrees) to not quite sharing the majority opinion on Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem. Yes Mark Rylance was off the scale brilliant as your man Rooster, the wealth and layering of ideas was genius and their were plenty of memorable scenes but we might have liked just a peep more of a dramatic story.

Well people you get that here. The set, sound and lighting are immensely detailed, the performances of the expansive cast without exception perfect (though if  had to pick one performance beyond the mighty debutant Paddy Considine it would be Tom Glynn-Carney) and Sam Mendes’s direction exemplary. But at the end of the day it is all about the the writing – and what writing. Since there is a transfer to the West End no plot details here. Let me just say that the way history, family drama and a cracking story with a powerful conclusion, are intertwined is simply magnificent.  There are the connections with distant, mysterious past events and with the land/seasons, (the stuff that informed Jerusalem), but this time set against the backdrop of the Troubles in Ireland. The Republican cause is examined from all angles and the way in which that affects multiple generations is brilliantly illuminated. This is a real family sketched with precision and humour but there is real insight too. And there are stories of love and longing, in major and minor keys, as well.

In the hands of another writer the play might sink under the weight of the material that is brought to bear or just go off into a world of frustrating ellipsis. Not here though. Mr Butterworth word by word, line by line, character by character, scene by scene (with only the deftest of contrivances) builds the whole thing into an immense structure (even weaving in profound understanding from great writers of the past), whilst at the same time giving you a proper edge-of-the-seat, what-is-going-to-happen-next feeling. There are fleeting nods to the likes of Messrs McPherson, Friel and McGuinness but Mr Butterworth is most definitely his own man.

So, my strong advice to you is that, if you wish to avoid the “past continually haunting your own present” like the Carney family here, then you immediately get a ticket for the West End transfer at the Gielgud. There is some critically acclaimed “unmissable” theatre that is eminently missable. This though is the real deal so believe all those proper reviews. and ignore the griping from the realist fringe about excess paddywhackery. So off you toddle now as I do not want to have to come round to your house to make you see sense.

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