The Ferryman

Theatre, Drama Gielgud Theatre , Soho Until Saturday January 6 2018
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 out of 5 stars
(10user reviews)
17 Love It
Save it
 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Paddy Considine (Quinn Carney), Sophia Ally (Honor Carney), Elise Alexandre (Mercy Carney) and Rob Malone (Oisin Carney)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Laura Donnelly (Caitlin Carney), Dearbhla Molloy (Aunt Patricia Carney) and Genevieve O’Reilly (Mary Carney)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

01981 – Fra Fee (Michael Carney), Carla Langley (Shena Carney), Niall Wright (JJ Carney), Paddy Considine (Quinn Carney), Sophia Ally (Honor Carney), Michael McCarthy (Declan Corcoran), John Hodgkinson (Tom Kettle), Genevieve O’Reilly (Mary Carney) and Rob Malone (Oisin Carney)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Des McAleer (Uncle Patrick Carney)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Paddy Considine (Quinn Carney) and Genevieve O’Reilly (Mary Carney)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Laura Donnelly (Caitlin Carney) and Paddy Considine (Quinn Carney)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Laura Donnelly (Caitlin Carney) and Paddy Considine (Quinn Carney)

 (© Johan Persson)
© Johan Persson

Laura Donnelly (Caitlin Carney) and Genevieve O’Reilly (Mary Carney)

Book theatre tickets

Sam Mendes directs the astonishing new play from Jez 'Jerusalem' Butterworth

INTERVIEW: Jez Butterworth on 'The Ferryman', Bond and the future of 'Jerusalem'

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. But despite the teeming cast and interwoven plot lines it remains intimate, set in the kitchen  of a single Armagh farmhouse in 1981. Bond director Sam Mendes's recent theatrical record has largely involved bombastic West End fodder, but here he controls everything with a powerful restraint that keeps 'The Ferryman' in sharp focus through every shift of shape.

'The Ferryman' is a play about Ireland and about Northern Ireland (Butterworth's family is of Irish descent). It is a play set at the height of Bobby Sands's hunger strike. It is a play about an era modern enough to feel recognisable, but far enough away that its older generation experienced the Easter Rising firsthand. It is a play about a mystical idea of Ireland in which fairies and banshees and magic all exist, somewhere. It is a play about youthful idealism and brutal adult pragmatism. Like most of Butterworth's work, it is funny, with much of the humour here coming from its child cast swearing like troopers.

It is, in a more prosaic sense, about Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine), a loving father whose life has been haunted by the unexplained disappearance of his brother Seamus, leaving him and his distant wife Mary (Genevieve O'Reilly) to take in his brother's vivacious wife Caitlin (Laura Donnelly) who always clung to the possibility Seamus would return. But a body has been found preserved in a bog, and a watchful peace made possible by uncertainly is about to end.

This is not a rehash of 'Jerusalem' - spoiler alert, but you might want to look to David Cronenberg's 'A History of Violence' for closer inspiration. 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. He feels scarcely more important a character than his seer aunt Maggie Far Away (Brid Brennan), or his strange, shamanic English neighbour Tom Kettle (John Hodgkinson) or young Shake (Tom Glynn-Carney) seduced by thoughts of IRA glory. 

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. 

By: Andrzej Lukowski


Venue name: Gielgud Theatre
Address: Shaftesbury Avenue
Transport: Tube: Piccadilly Circus
Price: £12-£45. Runs 3hr 20min
Event website:
To improve this listing email:

Average User Rating

5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:9
  • 4 star:0
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:0
  • 1 star:0
1 person listening
Avatar for Jojuj

This play takes its time bringing you into the rhythms and tensions of a rural Irish family. The tension seeps in slowly, with revelations about certain people's associations with the IRA. But the play isn't so much political as deeply concerned with questions of loyalty and duty. It manages to pose these questions in an affecting, frequently humorous way over the course of 3+ hours, with impressive writing, acting, and set, light and sound design. 

Avatar for AJCroasdale

The Ferryman covers so much ground it's a miracle that it isn't a complete mess: instead, it's a stunning meeting of a stellar cast, a talented writer and a brilliant director, resulting in an incredible play.

All of the big themes are dealt with: love, loss, family, conflict, but they are woven together in a way that doesn't make the show seem overcrowded.

The naturalism of the Carney's kitchen at harvest offers insight into a world that is very similar to our own, but far enough away in time to seem dream-like. The brutal reality of the Troubles cuts through the rural idyll of the farm, and if you have any knowledge of the period, you know that the story could have no simple resolution. Others have pointed out how quickly the 3.5 hours flies by, and that is down to how compelling this story is, and how well it's performed.

If you can get tickets for it, you really should. The Ferryman is unquestionably one of the best shows of the year.

Avatar for Parklife

Fantastic acting and dialogue is the hallmark of this production. Although it was difficult to follow all the plot lines initially since the stage was inundated with the introductions of all the characters in the bustling family kitchen, the play quickly settled down. My favourite character was Tom Kettle, whose otherworldliness qualities often provided comic relief as well as haunting moments of beauty. Although very long, the play came to a fitting and very dramatic denouement. Although I had a very limited knowledge of Irish history, events mentioned during the play such as the Easter Uprising and Bobby Sands, made me determined to find out more. I can say that was the true legacy of this play.

Avatar for T. W.

Superb, brilliant written and paced. Excellent acting from a perfectly cast play. A tad long to be honest but truly worth it. 

Avatar for Sosh_uk

One Of the best plays I have seen this year, directed by Sam Mendes. It's long at 3.5 hours with only one interval, but three acts. The story is gripping and the acting by the cast is amazing, including the kids and the baby and the goose! First plan I have seen to have a real baby!! Not a fake one, a real one. The play has highs and lows and you go through a roller coaster of emotions, whilst watching it. Tickets sold Out for the Royal court run, it has now moved to the Gielgud theatre, so get your tickets before they sell out.

expanded thumbnail
Avatar for Arlette L

Brilliant production.  Enjoyed this as it captured so many emotions and being Irish some bits resonated with Irish families, the craic, singing.  Fantastic acting and so many surprises.

Avatar for Chris

Absolutely loved this play - it's long but it flies by. Engrossing, funny, absorbing and an ending which will make you gasp. Must be one of the plays of the year! Get a ticket for the west end transfer while you still can.

Avatar for John C

Every now & again the Royal Court hits the jackpot. This doesn't happen very often these days  - so I'm more than delighted to welcome  "The Ferryman". They were very much helped with a brilliant playwright  Jez Butterworth, an outstanding director Sam Mendes & a perfect cast.This is the shortest 3 & a quarter hour play I've ever seen. It is totally engrossing, it's amusing, and its unforgettable.

Avatar for Brendan Y

Get tickets for the West End run NOW ! As soon as word gets out, tickets will be imposdible. Play of the year so far for me. I'd say even edges out the Almeida Hamlet. (Not including the van Hove Roman plays as that was not in rep).