Tag Archives: Jez Butterworth

The Ferryman, Broadway 2018

The Ferryman, by Jez Butterworth, directed by Sam Mendes, with a superb cast, opened on Broadway last night. The show just could be that rare commodity: a review-proof play. In almost 40 years of acting I have seldom seen audiences respond like they do for this one.

Rather being ‘on’ this production, than ‘in’ it, I considered it part of the job to read the reviews — something I try hard to avoid when actually appearing in a show — See previous blog post here.

And the reviews are spectacular. Across the board. Up to and including the mighty New York Times.

Theatrical history is full of contention between critics and actors — see for example Dame Diana Rigg’s amusing volume of collected reviews, No Turn Unstoned

Sir Nigel Hawthorne once took issue with a review of his production of the seldom-performed The Clandestine Marriage. (He directed and played the lead; I played a hedge. Yes, hedge, as applied to topiary, not to fund management). Nigel wrote a closely spaced four-page letter to a prominent theatre critic, with point by point analysis supporting his production choices. The critic in question conceded that perhaps he had been too hasty in his judgment. Too late! The damage had been done. The show closed prematurely.

It’s no secret that adverse reviews can close shows. I have witnessed at close hand the collapse of box office in several productions — each time, in my opinion, completely undeserved and a great shame, considering the work, talent and yes, money, that went into them.

You may wonder why I am taking the trouble to lay out this context, when in the present case there is, as far as I know, (again in my opinion) universal, absolutely earned, deserved, and appropriate high praise. There is a reason. But on this occasion I certainly have no quarrel with either critic or criticism.

The reviews, as I said, are raves across the board. In the Broadway landscape, The New York Times is a king-maker, and Ben Brantley, as senior critic there, is the most powerful. He’d already endorsed The Ferryman when he saw it in London last year, and his review of the Broadway production, published today, confirms what he said in 2017.

One usually doesn’t think of an actor reviewing a critic, (see here for an example).  I have taken issue with Mr Brantley’s view on several productions, as many theatre folk I know have done from time to time, but here I find his review to be accurate and excellent, and filling the highest function that theatrical criticism should: namely to elevate and preserve standards, and to inform and enrich the community it serves.

Well, that’s enough about that. A long way to say that The Ferryman is a hot ticket.

Looking at another part of the production, and now I disclose a fun technical detail which may come in handy should you (or I — as my present employment may at some point require) ever be called on to go on stage with a live goose tucked under one arm. No spoiler here, every review mentions the goose. And the rabbit. And the baby. Our goose is mostly well behaved and quite a hit with audiences. I do know though, from our wrangler, that if the goose were to get stressed, there is a chance that she might… well… what’s the word I want? — Evacuate. In projectile fashion. This is where the staging is crucial. Consider if the actor were angled even slightly down-stage. Well it hasn’t happened yet. But if you do chance to buy tickets, perhaps choose something beyond the very front row?

Don’t go Green go Emerald

In so many ways Ireland leads the way. Not least in their policy on clean energy. But I’m not here to talk about that.

Way back when I was in The Seafarer with a quartet of excellently robust actors, (the craic was mighty) I asked Mick Millamphy to give me a hand with the accent of County Armagh, significantly different from the Dublin sound we were going for then. I had an audition for The Ferryman. This is the transfer that originated at The Royal Court Theatre in London and then ran in the West End for almost a year and is now coming to Broadway with the original cast.

“Sure,” said Mick, “come over to Ryan’s Daughter (a bar on New York’s Upper East Side,  he was part owner) and we’ll work on it.”

I made my way to 85th Street and 1st avenue. It was a misty evening. A light drizzle was falling. Shape-shifters were out and about just past the corners of perception. As I entered this bar under an Irish flag (one of several in New York City), a pint of Guinness materialized in my left hand.

“Come up to the snug,” said Mick.

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Guinness continued to manifest about every quarter hour. Just before the preceding pint was finished. And here is the funny thing; I never saw it arrive. Mick and I chatted, discussing the idea that the job I was going for – understudying several roles in The Ferryman, an extraordinary play by Jez Butterworth – was distantly reminiscent of when governments subsidize farmers not to grow alfalfa. Getting paid for actively not acting. Although being ready, willing and able to do so, should someone twist an ankle.

At my age the capacity for Guinness is not what it once was. So although Mick’s company was highly agreeable, I had to slip away after about a gallon or two. We did spend a little time actually working on the accent and the next day I got the job. I started work last week. We preview October 2nd, open October 21st. Mick, I owe you.

The Ferryman tells an epic true story, but the play is threaded with mythology. I’m now convinced that selected newborns in Ireland are taken by the ankle and dipped in the river of Guinness that runs, with tributaries, through all of that magical land.