by Jez Butterworth
The Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London SW1W 8AS to 20 May 2017and from 20 June 2017 at the Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1D 6AR.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 1.30pm
Runs 3 hours One interval.
Royal Court run sold out.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5130
Review: William Russell, 5 May 2017
Matters of life and death
This vast sprawling marvellous play really does fall into the unmissable category, although to do that – since it is returns only at the Royal Court- those who don’t want to miss had better book quickly for its West End run at the Gielgud which follows in June. Set in Armagh in 1981 at the height of the hunger strikes in the Maze it shows the large family of Quinn Carney, a former IRA member, now a farmer, celebrating the bringing in of the harvest. It seems a happy family, lots of whisky gets drunk, the festive goose goes missing, is retrieved – and slaughtered, a sign of things to come. Jokes get told, the children dance, aged aunts remember times past and it all seems a contented and fruitful way of life. But that is the surface. We already know all is not right, and the relationship between Quinn, his sister in law Caitlin, who lives with the family along with Oisin, her stressed and fragile son, her husband Seamus having disappeared ten years before, is just that little bit too close for comfort. Maybe nothing is going on, but patently controlled emotions run high, and Mary, his wife – with yet another baby in her arms – is one of those sickly souls not really sick.
We also know the IRA is involved because the play opens with a scene between the big boss and a terrified Catholic priest at which orders are given. The problem is body of Quinn’s brother, murdered as a suspected traitor by the IRA and buries in a swamp, has been. The family must be dealt with.
It is a story about love, lost love – there are two old aunts, one a dedicated Republican whose finest hour was the Easter rising, one a visionary who sees the banshees howling at the gates – and impossible love as neither Quinn nor his sister in law will admit what has happened to them. Maybe at the very end when the story reaches its violent climax one wonders why one had to wait so long for all that to happen and why it had to happen.
But superbly directed by Sam Mendes with terrific performances from a 22 strong cast the result is an enthralling evening of explosive passions running high. Paddy Coniine as Quinn, Laura Donnelly as Caitlin, and Genevieve Reilly as Mary, as the two aunts, Bird Brennan as Maggie the wheelchair bound visionary, and Diarchal Molloy as Patricia, the fanatical Republican are faultless, and there is a stunning turn as a young neighbour turned up for the harvest who is seduced by the IRA rhetoric from Ton Glynn-Carney. But all the performances are splendid – even the real baby, a string of them are lined up, – played its part perfectly as did the goose.
The ferryman of the title is Chiron who takes the souls across the Styx and the banshees that howl outside at the end are the unburied souls who wander the earth waiting for burial. There is one amazingly chilling moment when on the radio we hear Margaret Thatcher at her most implacable and the illusion of country life at its happiest, the celebration of the harvest successfully brought in, is shattered.
Lawrence Malone: Furlough Convey.
Frank McGinnis: Eugene O’Hare.
Father Corrigan: Gerard Horan.
Muldoon: Stuart Graham.
Quinn Carney: Paddy Coniine.
Caitlin Carney: Laura Donnelly.
Mercy Carney: Elise Alexandre, Darcey Conway.
Nunu Carney: Angel O’Callaghan, Clara Murphy.
Aunt Maggie Far Away: Brid Brennan.
Shena Carney: Carla Langley.
Uncle Patrick Carney: Des McAleer.
JJ Carney: Niall Wright.
Honor Carney: Sophia Ally, Grace Doherty.
Oisin Carney: Rob Malone.
Aunt Patricia Carney: Dearbhla Molloy.
Tom Kettle: John Hodgkinson.
Michael Carney: Fra Fee.
Mary Carney: Genevieve O’Reilly.
Shane Corcoran: Tom Glynn-Carney.
Diarmaid Corcoran: Conor MacNeill.
Declan Corcoran: Michael McCarthy, Xavier Moras Spencer.
Bobby Carney aged nine months: Henry-George Stoker, Hollie Reaks, Lennie Clark, Max Taylor, Rocky Higgins.
Director: Sam Mendes.
Designer: Rob Howell.
Lighting Designer: Peter Mumford.
Composer & Sound Designer: Nick Powell.
Choreographer: Scarlett Mackmin.
Fight Director: Terry King.
Dialect Coach: Majella Hurley.
Vocal Coach: Barbara Houseman.
Associate Director: Tim Hoare.
William Russell (@pursuivant)