The Ferryman – review

Set during the Troubles in Ireland, The Ferryman is a darkly-funny tale of a family divided, penned by Jez Butterworth, the writer of the new Sky Atlantic series Britannia.

In the world of theatre, a new play by writer Jez Butterworth is a significant event. His 2009 hit Jerusalem sold out seasons in London’s West End and New York’s Broadway, and helped make household names of its stars Mark Rylance, Mackenzie Crook and Aimee-Ffion Edwards.

His latest play, The Ferryman – at Gieldgud Theatre until 19 May – is an impressive work that explores the consequences of the Troubles in Ireland.

The Carney family, with patriarch Quinn at the helm, are preparing for a harvest feast and the farmhouse is a hub of banter. People are laughing and telling stories, full of anticipation for the party ahead. But they’re a family so, as always, there is plenty of sniping and bickering too.

For one, spikey Aunt Patricia doesn’t think there’s anything to be celebrating, harvest or no. Not while Irish republican Bobby Sands sits in prison, leading a hunger strike. The party atmosphere is continually broken by her insistence that they listen to the news and the updates about Sands and his fellow prisoners.

It’s clear that the Carney family, although republicans, are trying to escape the realities of the outside world, including news of the Troubles. But as the play goes on, it becomes apparent that they did not always hide from conflict, and Quinn was a key figure in the IRA.

Soon enough, when IRA commander Muldoon comes looking to settle old scores, the family’s history makes a violent return and Quinn has to face his past or suffer the consequences.

The huge cast – there are more than 20 – and direction from James Bond director Sam Mendes, makes for a lively performance. With three acts, it could do with being a little shorter, but there are plenty of laughs to keep you entertained along the way.

If you are too young to know about the Troubles in Ireland, then we suggest you gen up a little on the basics before you see the play. It will make the experience even better.

The Ferryman is at Gieldgud Theatre until 19 May. For tickets visit