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Review: The Ferryman, at Royal Court Theatre

Paddy Considine stars in tense production about fiery family politics, set against a background of sectarian violence

12 May, 2017 — By Howard Loxton

Paddy Considine and Genevieve O’Reilly in The Ferryman. Photo: Johan Persson

IT’S 1981 and 10 years ago Seamus Carney disappeared leaving his wife and child abandoned. It was said he had been seen in Liverpool. Now his well-preserved body has been dug up in a peat bog with a bullet hole in the head.

A priest has been summoned to a secret meeting in Derry and pressurised to tell what Carney had said in the confessional.

Jez Butterworth’s new play sets up the background of sectarian violence within minutes, then presents the Carney family preparing for harvest on their farm in Armagh.

Quinn Carney (the bog man’s brother) is a former IRA man who quit just before Seamus’s disappearance. Paddy Considine gives him an honest integrity.

As well as his hypochondriac wife and many children the household includes a militant Republican auntie, another whose mind strays away in dementia, an uncle fond of talk and the classics and the dead man’s wife and her son.

Sam Mendes’ direction welds this complexity into a household that is as real and as detailed as designer Rob Howell’s huge farm kitchen where they prepare for harvest, then celebrate with the cousins who come to help them.

Their exuberance is interrupted by the priest and then by IRA big man Muldoon (Stuart Graham) and his henchmen. The tension is palpable but what’s behind it?

It is a strong cast throughout, especially moving is Laura Donnelly as Seamus’s wife, clearly in love with his brother, a passion that symbolically flares in a fire when we first meet them and that he takes his time to extinguish.

This is a play even more about people than it is about politics. Transfers to Gielgud Theatre in June.

020 7565 5000


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