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BWW Review: Jez Butterworth's Olivier-Winning THE FERRYMAN is A Harvest of Engaging Characters and Performances

The angry graffiti painted on the red bricks of the Bogside alleyway, memorializing Irish Republicans who have fallen in the cause of independence, contributes to the ominous mood of the opening scene of Jez Butterworth's Olivier-winning THE FERRYMAN, which has transferred to Broadway with most of its large London cast intact.

The Ferryman
Paddy Considine and Company
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

But after a short blackout, the brick wall has been replaced by a warm and inviting farmhouse, and the graffiti has been swapped for dozens of innocent crayon drawings from the large brood of children who call it home.

This simple gesture accomplished by designer Rob Howell perfectly defines the struggle of the enthralling drama's central character, trying to fully escape the violence of his past with a bountiful harvest of familial love

As beautifully played by Paddy Considine, former IRA member Quinn Carney is a kind responsible family man trying to rid himself of his past.

He and his wife Mary (Genevieve O'Reilly) have had seven children, including those played by scene-stealing youngsters Matilda Lawler, Willow McCarthy and Brooklyn Schuck. The night this reviewer attended, the role of 9-month-old Bobby Carney was played by the very well-behaved Theo Ward Dunsmore.

The children are fascinated with the stories told by clairvoyant, but dementia-stricken Aunt Maggie Far Away (Fionnula Flanagan), while jolly philosopher Uncle Patrick (Mark Lambert) amuses the adults. Dour Aunt Patricia (Dearbhla Molloy) holds a particularly intense disdain for the English, including mentally slow farm worker Tom Kettle (Justin Edwards).

It's time for the annual Harvest Day celebration, and, as usual, the Corcoran cousins (Tom Glynn-Carney, Conor MacNeill and Michael Quinton McArthur) have arrived to pitch in with the chores and enjoy the feasting and dancing. But this year they've brought with them added tension fueled by whiskey shots. It's the summer of 1981 and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has refuse to recognize hunger-striking Republican inmates at the Maze Prison as political prisoners.

Ten years earlier, Quinn's brother Seamus, suspected to be an informant, mysteriously disappeared. His widow Caitlin (Laura Donnelly) and emotionally distant son Oisin (Rob Malone) have lived in the farmhouse ever since. With Mary taken to spending her days in bed, claiming to suffer from various viruses, Caitlin has become the mother figure of the home and she and Quinn have developed unspoken romantic feelings for each other.

The Ferryman
Laura Donnelly, Genevieve O'Reilly,
Sean Frank Coffey and Paddy Considine
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

What the audience knows that the Carney's don't is that Seamus' body has been found and identified and that IRA strongman Muldoon (Stuart Graham) has threatened Father Horrigan (Charles Dale) to use the information he knows about Quinn from taking his confessions to ensure that the circumstances surrounding his brother's death are kept secret.

Butterworth takes his time unfolding details of his plot, focusing more on how a continuing political issue affects family dynamics spanning three generations, leading up to a tense and violent conclusion.

Under Sam Mendes' empathetic direction, the wonderful ensemble company provides deeply-textured and entertaining performances. Despite the three and a quarter hour length (one intermission and a brief pause) the play flies by.

This reviewer didn't care much for Butterworth's previous Broadway outings, JERUSALEM and THE RIVER, but The Ferryman is a completely different kind of drama and its combination of warmth, romance, humor and intrigue is totally engaging.

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From This Author - Michael Dale