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The Ferryman

The Ferryman

By Jez Butterworth
Imprint: Nick Hern Books
Paperback : 9781848426382, 160 pages, April 2017


County Armagh, Northern Ireland, 1981. The Carney farmhouse is a hive of activity with preparations for the annual harvest. A day of hard work on the land and a traditional night of feasting and celebrations lie ahead. But this year they will be interrupted by a visitor.

Developed by Sonia Friedman Productions, Jez Butterworth's play The Ferryman premiered to huge acclaim at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in April 2017, before transferring to the West End. The production was directed by Sam Mendes.

It went on to win the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Play and the Critics' Circle, Olivier and WhatsOnStage Awards for Best New Play.


"A harvest feast of immeasurable brilliance. Butterworth's writing offers an exquisite balance of humour and drama, revelry and mourning, surprise and expectation. It is a masterclass in every aspect… an unforgettable piece of theatre that will no doubt be talked about for decades to come. " —Broadway World

"Jez Butterworth is back – and how. .. his new play is a mighty affair, sending stories, characters, history, politics and love skittering across the floor with the flair of a gambler rolling dice. It’s a stunning piece of writing: teeming with life; haunted by death… Butterworth takes the great family drama and makes it his own. You can see traces of Friel, Miller, Chekhov, Ibsen, even Aeschylus and Sophocles, and it’s clearly a twist on the Irish dramatic canon. He offers a masterclass in observing the classical unities, using dramatic irony and building tension. But he also brings to it his own love of storytelling and skill with menace, binding the two to depict the tragic mesh of conflict… a magnificent play that uses, brilliantly, the vitality of live theatre to express the deadly legacy of violence. " —Financial Times

"A ripping thriller in a big family home, stuffed with eccentricity and black comedy, it swells into an expansive examination of Republican history, politics and identity, as tied up with the IRA… a tumbling and tumultuous play, one that swerves off into storytelling, song and dance, and debate, without taking its eye off the need for suspense. It’s a thriller that bursts the bounds of its genre, but never forgets what makes the form tick. Butterworth loads his traps patiently, then bides his time. .. it’s a prime example of thinking through theater, as Butterworth embodies ideas and makes images felt, rubs stories off against each other and stirs motifs into the mix. From missed-out motherhood to lost love, the play courses with yearned-for connections that remain agonizingly incomplete. But it is, above all, entirely entertaining. " —Variety

"A richly absorbing and emotionally abundant play… an instant classic. " —Independent

"Huge in the scale of its cast, of its ambition, of its rich themes. But above all, massive in its capacity to hold an audience rapt, in silence, telling them a story. It is, like Jerusalem before it, an extraordinary, thrilling act of belief in the power of theatre to gather people in a room and make them listen… Butterworth's writing, both flexible and controlled, makes every moment, whether funny, tender or tragic worth leaning forward to catch… a triumphant, bold piece of theatre, full of life and heart and passion. " —WhatsOnStage

"A serious, seriously good, grown-up play. .. something special. " —The Times

"Butterworth has done it again… a drama of mighty magnitude. .. miss this and you’ve missed a marvel. " —Telegraph

"A stunning piece that might be even better than Mojo and even Jerusalem, which is really saying something… combines elements of Greek tragedy with a shrewd commentary on recent Irish history in the wrapping of a high octane family drama. " —British Theatre Guide

"A stunning, sprawling and richly written play… a mixing of the mythic and the modern. " —The Stage

"Fully justifies the hype. .. a feast of intricate storytelling, it's absorbing, soulful and ultimately shattering. " —Evening Standard

"A story that heaves with narratives and with incidents, with jokes and with surreal moments… an amazing experience. Butterworth’s storytelling finesse carries all before it. " —The Arts Desk

"A rich, serious, deeply involving play… what gives Butterworth’s play such shattering force is its Hardyesque love of rural rituals and its compassionate exploration of unspoken love. " —Guardian

"An astonishing, enormous, shattering eruption of a play… it left me genuinely stunned. " —Time Out

"Fiercely gripping… overflows with storytelling vitality, the kind that so holds the attention that three and a quarter-hours seem to pass in the blink of an eye, albeit a bloodied and black one. " —New York Times