The Gielgud Theatre

Written by Jez Butterwort

Directed By Sam Mendes

Designed by Rob Howell

Costume by Lucy Gaiger

Lighting Designer Peter Mumford


The Ferryman is set on a farm in rural Armagh in 1981. At its heart, two mysteries intertwine: the fate of Seamus Carney, a young man that had “disappeared” by the hands of IRA on New Year’s Day, 1972, and the unspoken love that has grown between his brother, Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine), and Seamus’s wife, Caitlin Carney (Laura Donnelly). Caitlin and her troubled 14-year-old son, Oisin, live under the same roof as Quinn, his ‘absent’ wife, Mary (Genevieve O’Reilly), and their six children. Also living under Quinn’s roof is uncle Pat and his aunts, Patricia and Maggie, the one a staunch and bitter Irish republican, the other a more gentle soul whose long silences are broken by voluble gusts of remembering and prophecy.

This is a three-hour play populated with 22 characters, they are members of the Catholic Carney clan, and their age range from their eighties to a nine-month-old baby. The real baby truly caused an impact on the audience. Disarming and unsettling feeling. The infant’s gurgling helplessness shows what is at stake and emphasizes the ferocity, dangerous, ambitions, hate and unhappiness of those around him.  At the centre of which there’s a covert love-triangle: the farmer and head of the family Quinn extremely attracted to his sister-in-law Caitlin while his wife Mary lies sick in bed, away from most of the time and action during the play.

There are a lot of clichés and stereotypes of Irishness assumed accepted by the whole production and audience: the relentless drinking, the references to fairies, the Irish dancing, the dodgy priest, the spinster aunts. But also it represents the idea of place, geography, loyalty, and community. At points, the stage is filled with noise, loud voices, and dance but soon the atmosphere changed for a sense of uneasy, dangerous and dislocation.

What I had witnessed, and in part enjoyed, was a play that revealed more about English attitudes to Ireland than it did about Northen Ireland. Unfortunately, I don’t have a deep knowledge of the Irish history but I found the drama very entertainment and reliable.

The set works really well. The play is set in a family house, the kitchen to be precise and I believe they choose this part of the house for being the centre and the heart of a family where all the member gets together to eat, have a drink or just a quick chat.  The design works really well and it have a lot of details, I felt that I was stepping in a very warm house, full of energy and love apart from all the political problems. Also, the traditional farm kitchen works as a curtain on the surface to cover the deep disagreements and hides a very dysfunctional family. The design is very simple but still drags you back in time and portrait the house ‘happy and loving’ family very well.

The lighting design is also very important in this case because indicates the time of the day.  There is only one window but it is the colour of the light that the audience have a perception of time. Overall it is a brilliant play and the set is a tool to transport us to another time, country and culture.

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