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Review: The Ferryman, starring Paddy Considine and Laura Donnelly

Betrayal, love, lies, children, dancing, drinking, secrets, politics, and swearing all teem from The Ferryman, whose hero is caught between the past and the present in the moving play.

Jez Butterworth’s drama about a family during the Troubles in 1981 Northern Ireland hits close to home for lead actress Laura Donnelly. She plays Caitlin, a women living with her brother-in-law Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine) since her husband, Seamus, vanished a decade ago. We learn that Seamus was one of The Disappeared, people believed to be secretly murdered and buried in Northern Ireland, while their families waited decades for information. Donnelly’s story of her uncle’s disappearance was the basis for The Ferryman, and it is a deeply moving play that tells the story of the Carney family through a very intimate and personal lens.

Quinn and his family are the center of the story as they prepare for the year’s harvest. When an unexpected visitor shows up and throws a knife into the celebration with details about Seamus’ death; lies, betrayal, and revelations of past crimes all come to light. The discovery of Seamus’ body and the increased pressure being placed on the family by the IRA to remain silent demonstrates not only a new fear, but a shift in the family, as does Caitlin’s transition from wife to officially being a widow which places tension on her relationship with her brother-in-law and his wife, Mary (Genevieve O’Reilly), as Caitlin struggles with her love for a married man.

While it is a play about love, and what brings a family together, it is still one about war and the effects it can have on a family. As Shane Corcoran (Tom Glynn-Carney) recounts a tale involving brutality towards a Catholic boy to his Carney cousins, Michael (Fra Fee) and James Joseph a.k.a “JJ” (Niall Wright), it tells of a cycle of violence that was difficult to separate a family from, as it is implied that Quinn’s refusal to be part of the IRA was what led to his brother’s death.

This captivating and fiercely gripping play makes it feel like no time has passed when it ends nearly three and a half hours after it began. The terrific cast, most of whom made the jump across the pond with the play after an engagement on London’s West End, play their parts wonderfully in the family where even the little ones swear like sailors. It is a night of storytelling that you won’t soon forget, and one that will leave you with an aching in your heart for the story that was told.

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