Over 20 plays have already been announced to open on Broadway this season, but there’s unlikely to be a family drama teeming with more life than this import from London.
Jez Butterworth’s tender and ferocious The Ferryman, which opened last year at London’s Royal Court, maps a deeply personal story on to an account of the divided Northern Ireland of the 1970s.
It tells of the human cost of the disappearance of a young man, and the wife and son left behind. The events of the play take place in 1981, 10 years later, when his body finally surfaces.
It’s a big play: there are 21 speaking characters, plus a live baby, a goose and a rabbit; its three acts run to well over three hours. This sense of overflowing dramatic richness is perfect for Broadway, where bigger is usually better. But the production’s epic sense of scale, with Rob Howell’s looming domestic kitchen interior filling the stage, is offset by the intimacy and detail of the performances.
Eleven of the original London cast reprise their work here, including Laura Donnelly (whose own family history inspired Butterworth to write the play) as the woman left in limbo by her husband’s vanishing; Paddy Considine as the patriarch who takes her into his family, and Genevieve O’Reilly as his wife, also return.
Newcomers include superb turns from Fionnula Flanagan as an elderly and intermittently lucid aunt, and Justin Edwards, as a displaced Englishman, who has also been adopted into the family.