Were the critics all aboard for Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman?
Jez Butterworth returns to the Royal Court following his smash hit Jerusalem
Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage
"The anticipation surrounding Jez Butterworth's new play The Ferryman has been epic. His first three-hour, three-act play since the blistering Jerusalem in 2009 is directed by Sam Mendes... It promised to be a huge event."
"And so it is. Literally so. Huge in the scale of its cast, of its ambition, of its rich themes. But above all, massive in its capacity to hold an audience rapt, in silence, telling them a story. It is, like Jerusalem before it, an extraordinary, thrilling act of belief in the power of theatre to gather people in a room and make them listen."
"Butterworth's writing, both flexible and controlled, makes every moment, whether funny, tender or tragic worth leaning forward to catch. He creates a world where banshees are as real in the wandering reminiscences of Brid Brennan's Aunt Maggie Far Away, as the brother who died in the Easter Uprising."
"Mendes' direction brings poetry to the most immensely detailed naturalism. The acting is so realistic that it seems to spring from the very soul of people. Paddy Considine, making his stage debut, displays extraordinary stillness and presence as Quinn; his scenes with Laura Donnelly's Caitlin have a gentle grace that is utterly heart-breaking."
"There are odd moments when the tension slackens... But these are small cavils in what is a triumphant, bold piece of theatre, an old-fashioned play full of life and heart and passion."
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard
"...it's a triumphant show that fully justifies the hype — and even manages to debunk the old platitude that you should never work with animals or children.
"At the outset we learn that the body of Seamus Carney, missing for ten years, has been located. Though his brother Quinn — an astonishingly focused Considine, brooding but also tender — is now a farmer, the discovery of Seamus's pickled corpse reconnects him to an ugly past he'd hoped to put behind him."
"Of the more mature characters, Bríd Brennan's Aunt Maggie Faraway is especially memorable, mostly static yet capable of summoning up the past with ghostly eeriness. Meanwhile, among the younger generation, it's newcomer Tom Glynn-Carney who stands out as the eldest of the visiting Corcoran brothers, a livewire who's alarmingly susceptible to the lure of fanaticism."
"There are some similarities here to Butterworth's last smash hit, Jerusalem, not least a sense of the mystique of rural life. Yet The Ferryman has its own distinct tang of humour and menace. A feast of intricate storytelling, it's absorbing, soulful and ultimately shattering."
Michael Billington, The Guardian
"...behind the box-office glamour of a work co-produced with Sonia Friedman and already destined for the West End lies a rich, serious, deeply involving play about the shadows of the past and the power of silent love. Only in the final moments of a play that runs well over three hours did I question Butterworth's mastery of his material."
"Butterworth is not the first person to dramatise the intersection of politics and private life in Northern Ireland... But what gives Butterworth's play such shattering force is its Hardyesque love of rural rituals and its compassionate exploration of unspoken love. At the heart of the play lies the tender relationship between Quinn, whom Paddy Considine endows with an unflinching integrity, and his brother's wife, Caitlin, beautifully played by Laura Donnelly. The idea of secret passion extends to two aunts who, in different ways, lost their loved ones."
"It reaches its fulfilment, however, in the captivating moment when a slow-witted English factotum reads Sir Walter Raleigh's poem "The Silent Lover" at the harvest home."
"Astonished gasps greet the presence of real rabbits, a goose and even a baby on stage. But one tiny moment illustrates Mendes's microscopic approach: the way Genevieve O'Reilly, as Quinn's ailing wife, quietly averts her gaze as Donnelly's Caitlin bustles about their communal kitchen speaks volumes about the plight of two women in love with the same man."
"But, if Butterworth's engrossing and haunting play tells us anything, it is that the violent past can no more be suppressed than the private passions that we are afraid to articulate."
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out
"There is a live goose in The Ferryman. And a live rabbit. And a live baby. None of these things are particularly important in and of themselves, but I guess I have to start somewhere in describing this enormous, shattering eruption of a play from Jerusalem playwright Jez Butterworth."
"The Ferryman is vast, a play that's formally conventional but has an ambition that's out of this world, a sense that it wants to be about EVERYTHING. And insofar as is realistically possible, it succeeds."
"Like most of Butterworth's work, it is funny, with much of the humour here coming from its child cast swearing like troopers."
"This is not a rehash of Jerusalem... And while Considine's performance - full of tenderness, authority, and suppressed violence - is remarkable, he is not a 'Rooster' Byron but a little part of a big, scary, beautiful world."
"The play is vast - three-and-a-half-hours - but even though lengthy stretches are nothing more than generations bickering at the breakfast table, nothing feels wasted, every strand is respected, Mendes choreographs everything to perfection."
"And when the climax you half suspect is coming, comes, it is like a final, epoch ending volcanic eruption, the play's carefully constructed emotional checks and balances detonating in a maelstrom of violence and feeling that left me genuinely stunned."
Ann Treneman, The Times
"Butterworth gives us two sides of Ireland, hard men and warm hearths, plus much in between. It's a big Catholic family, three generations rubbing along, secrets barely hidden, whiskey on tap."
"At the heart of it all is Quinn Carney, played with power and finesse by Considine, as a man with a past who just wants to enjoy harvest day. So much exuberance and, just, life in one day and, as it unfolds, Butterworth infiltrates it with stories, an uncle in the uprising, an aunt who loved a ghost, until there is a sprawling homemade quilt of family history before us."
"Among many fine performances are Laura Donnelly as Quinn's sister-in-law and Tom Glynn-Carney as Shane, a crackerjack teenage firebrand. This is a serious, seriously good, grown-up play. The set, by Rob Howell, is so realistic that you feel you've drunk a cup of tea, or something stronger, there yourself. The three and a half hours do not drag. I would, happily, go back to spend time in that kitchen. So, yes, it is something special."
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
"Jerusalem gave us the "full English" – 14 characters, a sprawling state-of-the-nation epic... Journeying to Armagh, Northern Ireland and taking us back to the harvest of late August 1981... The Ferryman, serves up, you could josh, the full Irish, with director Sam Mendes bringing it to table with élan and a crack ensemble."
"At times, it's as if we're watching the Armagh equivalent of The Archers: there's a real-life goose and rabbits – the latter clutched by an otherworldly English neighbour called Tom Kettle."
"What I can openly observe is that there is a new warmth about Butterworth's writing – which eschews the self-aware dialogue of yore and taps his own Irish-Catholic provenance (and arguably Irish masters like Friel and McGuinness too) for a vitality that memorably manifests itself in wild Dionysiac outbreaks of dancing."
"Considine, making his stage-debut, and Laura Donnelly are perfect as the unrequited in-laws, Dearbhla Molloy is waspishly entertaining as a black-clad, die-hard Republican aunt and flame-haired Tom Glynn-Carney makes his libidinal mark as the most unruly of the teen visitors."
"As good as Jerusalem? Well, perhaps not, but that's beside the point. Miss this and you've missed a marvel."
Natasha Tripney, The Stage
"Sam Mendes, returning to stage after helming two James Bond films, directs a production of abundance. He knows how to orchestrate large group scenes. There are over 20 characters, a whole troupe of weans, numerous scenes of dancing and brawling, a real live goose and a real live baby."
"The acting is pretty spectacular all round. Paddy Considine is contained, quiet yet charismatic as Quinn, but it's Laura Donnelly's Caitlin – in love with man she can't have, while tied to man she has long since done her grieving for – who makes the play's heart beat."
"It's a handsomely designed show too, with Peter Mumford's lighting spilling through the windows of Rob Howell's detailed brick-and beam farmhouse set."
"Though The Ferryman is compelling even in its quiet moments, the play doesn't entirely justify its mammoth running time and the violent tying together of the various threads feels a little hurried – if genuinely upsetting."
"There's a sense too that Butterworth is repurposing some of his former tricks – but that's what all magicians do."
The Ferryman runs at the Royal Court until 20 May and then transfers to the Gielgud Theatre from 20 June to 7 October.