From Bloody Sunday to Bobby Sands, a 400 Year War Rages On
The Ferryman at the Jacobs Theatre begins with two characters leaning up against a brick wall. It is a blighted out area in Belfast, Northern Ireland. We hear helicopters and sirens faintly in the background as one sips his beer and the other watches intently. On the wall are spray painting of "We Are The People" and "BOBBY." The audience finds out in short order how ruthless the IRA is and what they will do to succeed in there efforts. No one is safe from this organization, not even the local priest nor members of this terrorist organization.
Ferryman is a well laid out story. The play takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster. Most of the play takes place at Quinn Carney's farm house. It is a 50 acre farm and it is harvest season. As everyone gets ready for the harvest feast, news has come that will surely affect the family. We slowly meet the Carney's, seven children in all, two Aunts, one uncle and Sister-In-Law, Catlin Carney (Laura Donnelly). There are many personalities among the family, and of course many opinions. Writer Jez Butterworth does a masterful job in giving us each and every character throughout the show. The play is as funny as it is poignant; confrontational as it is enlightening. In a 400 year war we read about it, Butterworth makes us live the Carney's issues and concerns. We hear Aunt Patricia as she loathes the English, Aunt Maggie (Fionnula Flanagan), who philosophises about her older siblings who died and why she never married. Quinn Carney is the patriarch of the family, he has an easy going personality, he is proud of his 50 acre farm, that it feeds everyone. Although it seems that Quinn (Paddy Considine) is happy go lucky he has deep reservations as well as deeper regrets in his life.
Tensions and emotions grow very high when Bobby Sands, a IRA member has died in prison due to self imposed starvation. Shamus, Quinn's brother and Catlin's husband has just been found after ten years in the bog with a bullet in his head. Director Sam Mendes has done a masterful job in bring forth the raw emotions, the hatred, the passion that this family has. At times the family is playful, like all families, they fight, they tease and the kid and prod one another. The Carney's are a happy brood, however, they don't want for anything and live relatively peacefully among the hardship and terror that surrounds them. While Aunt Pat worships the IRA, Quinn sees the evil in them firsthand and his brother is the latest victim. Butterworth is neutral in this conflict, he shows us how the IRA has one pecking order for the higher ups and quite another for the foot soldiers. Butterworth gives us evil all around this family trying to live there daily lives in peace.
The second act brings us many conflicts in the home, as the war effort is unavoidable for the Carney's. We see new life in the home, the violins and flutes, the dancing. Aunt Maggie reminisces to the younger children about what it was like growing up in Belfast in more peaceful times. Pat tells us why she loves the cause and the "Brotherhood," how her older brother fought and died for the cause. Rob Howell's Scenic and Costumes help this play along. He shows us a simple home; simple cloths, house dresses that look nice but are just a formality in these peoples simple lives. The set brings us into the Carney home, we feel that we are guests of theirs for a little over three hours. We laugh raucously at the stories that they tell because we feel part of the family. We laugh indeed but all the while Mendes keeps us alert, we continually ask what will happen next. Just what is the real connection between Caitlin and Quinn? Why does Quinn's wife Mary spend most days upstairs with imaginary viruses. We question whether any of the boy's will join the IRA or will they be like Quinn, an upright individual who seems to have his life together.
The Ferryman is the best show I have seen so far this Theater season. It is so well written, directed and acted, it stands high above the rest. The stories plot line is the conflict of the Carney family and the IRA, but it is more then that, much more. It is a family based in everyday life. It deals with family turmoil and inner individual turmoil. It could be anyone's family, but it is the Carney family trying to get through the everyday issues of being surrounded by turmoil. To get a visit by Jimmy Muldoon, the head of the Provisional Irish Republican Army is always a tense and fearful one. That is, unless you worship him like some of the Carney's do. The entire cast makes the visit to the Carney family work well. Each actors is spectacular in their role as if they are actual family members and that this is just another few days in there lives. The Ferryman should not be missed, you will remember this show for years to come as it is a gripping masterpiece.