FUN | KELLYS PORTRUSH CELEBRATES GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY

- “LIVE AT THE BEACH PORTRUSH”- KELLYS PORTRUSH CELEBRATES GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY YEAR WITH NORTHERN IRELAND’S BIGGEST EVER BEACH FESTIVAL!-

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 Northern Ireland’s biggest and best beach festival has just been announced to take place this summer as the world’s hottest DJs join the Ulster Orchestra to mark 50 years of partying in Portrush - all thanks to Kellys and Lush!

 Kellys Portrush/Lush! have announced plans for an all-new 12,000 capacity Beach Festival in their spiritual home of Portrush this summer and we can’t wait!
Following the overwhelming success of the sell-out Lush! Classical shows at the SSE Arena Belfast and Ebrington Square, Derry/Londonderry for the Clipper Yacht Race celebrations, Lush! are now taking things to the next level with their Biggest classical show to date...taking the ‘Lush Classical’ concept outdoors with the North Coast’s stunning coastline as its backdrop. The event is in celebration of Kellys 50th year providing top-class entertainment for music fans across Northern Ireland…bringing it home to Portrush… can you imagine a better Summer evening?!

Lush! Classical Live at the Beach will be staged on August 10, 2019, at Portrush’s famous East Strand and will feature some of the hottest dance acts on the planet collaborating with Northern Ireland's most accomplished classical musicians. The event is part of a three-day music festival event in partnership with LSFX Productions.

For generations of music-fans in Northern Ireland, Kellys in Portrush has always been synonymous with the biggest stars of the local and international dance scene filling the floors every weekend for the most enthusiastic revellers. We all remember uni nights spent dancing the night away in Kellys.

The newly revamped Kellys venue is also renowned for innovation and pushing the boundaries of genre, while pioneering new forms of dance music. 

 Despite the fact it’s celebrating 50 years providing top class entertainment, for 2019, the team at Kellys is planning the biggest and best celebration to date.

 The Lush! Classical Live at the Beach event will see a 55-piece Ulster Orchestra, produced by Kylie Minogue’s musical director Steve Anderson combined with the genius of DJ and musical producer, Dave Seaman and featuring ‘Ibiza’s favourite saxophone player’ Lovely Laura and Maria Nayler. The event has capacity for 12,000 music fans -making it the biggest ever outdoor Classical dance event in Northern Ireland estimated at contributing more than £1.8million to the local economy. 

 Special guests include Seb Fontaine, Tall Paul, K Klass, Ben Santiago, Dee Montero and Junior J and tickets are expected to sell out quickly for what’s set to be Northern Ireland’s biggest ever beach party.

 Peter Wilson (48) is the second generation of his family to take over running Kellys, originally set up by his late uncle James Kelly in 1969. 

What started as a cowshed for staging barn dances 50 years ago has developed into one of the best-known nightclubs in Europe and this summer’s event will the most ambitious to date.

“This is going to be a golden year for Kellys as we celebrate our 50th anniversary, so we really wanted to pull out all the stops and give our loyal fans the party of their life,” Peter said.

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Lush! Classical Live at the Beach will be staged on August 10, 2019, at Portrush’s East Strand from 5pm to 11pm. 
Tickets cost £35 and £50 (plus booking fees) for the VIP area (hosted by Ibiza’s Café Mambo) and can be purchased from the usual outlets. 

 

For more information go to www.liveatthebeach.co.uk. Note, this event is strictly over 18’s only. 

ALICE: THE MUSICAL AT THE LYRIC IS A TRULY WONDERFUL TAKE ON WONDERLAND

I didn’t see Paul Boyd’s Alice: The Musical at the Lyric twenty years ago, but I can’t imagine it was anywhere as camp and colourful as this year’s take on the original Lewis Carroll tale - which was my favourite theatre experience this Christmas - because after touring the world for two decades, I can only guess that this production gets better with every performance.

 Alice: The Musical tells the story of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland and her attempts to escape the clutches of the notorious Queen of Hearts (Allison Harding). Tumble down the rabbit hole with Alice (Ruby Campbell) in pursuit of the elusive White Rabbit (Christina Nelson), to discover a fantastic realm where nothing makes sense. On her journey Alice meets an assortment of strange characters, including the famous acting duo of Tweedledum (Rea Campbell-Hill ) and Tweedledee (Adam Dougal), the unpredictable and hilarious Caterpillar (Mark Dugdale), the Mad Hatter (Mark Dugdale), and members of his underground political movement the Tea Party including the March Hare (Adam Dougal) and the Dormouse (Rea Campbell-Hill), and the seriously mad inventor The White Knight (Adam Dougal) – overseen at all times by the enigmatic Cheshire Cat (Charlotte McCurry).

Just seven actors covered all the roles in this massive musical revival - and I have to compliment the nanosecond synchronicity in the choreography (well done Deborah Maguire)  as well as truly West End-worthy singing and acting across the board. And although Ruby Campbell’s Alice and the icy /slash bonkers Queen of Hearts played by Allison Harding were both amazing, it was Mark Dugdale’s Mad Hatter and his caterpillar which enthralled me most. Both were absolutely en pointe. Christina Nelson also delivered a brilliant White Rabbit too, along with a few other roles between costume changes.

 

And on that note - THE COSTUMES!! As a fashionista first and foremost, I totally loved Gillian Lennox and Erin Charteris’ interpretations of the original illustrations, with a bit of Studio 54/Rio carnival thrown in for good measure. Stuart Marshall’s set was pretty spectacular too, especially when you consider the same stage delivers the ‘grown up’ theatre performance Bah Humbug each night after Alice.

 

All in all this is a truly Broadway-standard production and the big number finish left me baying for more.

 

Alice: The Musical will run at Lyric Theatre 29 November – 5 January. Tickets prices are Children: £12.50 Adult: £17.50, Family: £55.00. Discounts available for school bookings. For more information and tickets visit:

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HUMBUG IS HILARIOUS - THIS YEAR'S LYRIC THEATRE PRODUCTION IS FAB!

Grimes and McKee’s modern day Christmas Carol opening couldn’t have been more timely for me as, just weeks before, I had battled with my otherwise amazing other half because the last quarter of the year turns him completely business-obsessed and easily-impressed by the power of clients - some of whom are property moghuls who put profit before people.  All that ‘networking’ until 4am at the Merchant or Malmaison rather than coming home meant that Michael Condron’s Ebeneezer character touched quite  a sore nerve.

The story in brief is that Ebeneezer Scrooge (played fantastically by Condron) is the richest property developer in Belfast and, like in the original Dickens’ novel, he is visited by ghosts of the Christmas past, present and future in an effort to show him the error of his selfish, miserly and profit-focused ways and to encourage him to share his time and resources with those who matter.

Condron is brilliant as Scrooge - just as great on stage and in character as he had been earlier this year playing the twisted Pastor in Sinners. But each of the other actors (Grimes, McKee, Roisin Gallagher and Sophie Harkness ) was amazing in their myriad roles throughout the play, delivering script and form as varied as they come - and packed with jollity too.

In short, Ebenezer is a real Scrooge type whose only gods are money and success and who abandoned his only family (a niece borne of his beloved sister who died in childbirth) in favour of these. The same miserly figure treats his staff abysmally, and swans around the city in his brand new Range Rover not giving a proverbial f*%k about culture (there were some good Cathedral Quarter jibes in there which went down with the Lyric crowd).  The play tells the same story as the original, but with local relevance as well as a global (and important) message. There is plenty of great music too, with lots of rehashed classic Christmas songs and the odd 80s number. [And on this note, my only critique was the choice of the Conga as the whole ‘mood change’ music in the second act. It was kinda lost on me and I wished it had been different/better/something else, but that might have changed by the time Christmas comes around].   

Sometimes I get bored of Norn Iron humour - and not because I’m one of those snobby arts people, but I just think we can do better than the clichéd ‘aye right, love’ // ‘yer da, my ma’ kind of script. However when it’s done right, à la Jimmy Young in his 1970s peak, our humour is frickin’ hilarious and Bah Humbug sets this tone brilliantly.

Bah, Humbug! runs at Lyric Theatre Belfast from 17 Nov 2018 – 05 Jan 2019 8pm (17 & 18 Nov: £15).

Tickets: £22.50, Concessions (Students, Unemployed & Under 20’s): £15, over 65’s any matinee: £15.

For further information and bookings visit: www.lyrictheatre.co.uk

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THE GRAND OPERA HOUSE PANTO IS THE GRAND DAME OF CHRISTMAS THEATRE IN BELFAST… OH YES IT IS!

Jack and the Beanstalk at the Grand Opera House is so good I’ve seen it twice.
Jack and the Beanstalk is SO GOOD, I’m writing this twice!

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I’m literally just home from watching the Grand Opera House’s panto for the second  time in as many weeks and I was delighted to see many regulars from the GOH Panto stage take to the boards again this year. John Linehan’s May Trott character is of course the comedy hero - and this is his/her 29th consecutive panto. What a run! Joining May is the double Olivier award-winning actor David Bedella as pantomime’s ultimate baddie, and the giant’s henchman, Fleshcreep. David played the role of Captain Hook in Peter Pan last Christmas, seen by over 75,000 people during its six week run (and I loved the jovial jibes from May and co when she teased him as he sang ‘My Way’ just before his on-stage demise, saying he sang it last year). I cant fail to mention Paddy and Simon, also, who were both wonderfully present and very funny on stage too.

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My six year old and friends absolutely LOVED the music - some Greatest Showman numbers mixed with the usual bouncy pop classics, perfect for kids full of delish Dale Farm ice cream and mums seeking a bit of nostalgia in the score. They also loved the characters, the lights, the sounds, the animals, the big choreography as well as the splashing and the audience cam.

But as a wordsmith by trade, I must say that it is very cleverly written too; my favourite part is the tongue-twisting dialogue about Susan (or was it Sharon?) selling Sushi on a Saturday, which makes no sense on its own, but which is woven into the script perfectly. As usual with panto, there are multiple levels of humour, plenty for the kids and some most definitely for just the grown-ups. And proper order too.  I also loved the totally slapstick ‘If I were not in Pantomine’ skit towards the end, again superbly well written and choreographed to nano-second-synchronicity. The kids sang it all the way home, adding in  their own future jobs with actions.

I shant say any more for fear of spoilers, but in short this is West End worthy theatre in the heart of Belfast - all wrapped up with pyrotechnics and a big chopper like I’ve not seen since Miss Saigon plus a wonderfully 3D scary giant who had little kids around us screaming.

As for me, I’m one of over 1000 people to have booked for December 2019’s Beauty and the Beast already. The Grand Opera House panto really kicks off Christmas for me and I hope it’s a tradition I never give up.

 Jack and the Beanstalk, sponsored by Dale Farm, runs from Saturday 1 December 2018 to Sunday 13 January 2019. Tickets can be booked at goh.co.uk.

FOLIO | FLASHDANCE FOR FUN!

Last night I was invited along to the UK Tour of hit musical Flashdance at the Grand Opera House, and was treated to a colourful array of 80s dance classics.

The Musical tells the inspiring and unforgettable story of 18-year-old Alex, an apprentice welder by day and ‘flashdancer’ by night, who dreams of going to the prestigious Shipley Dance Academy and becoming a professional dancer.  When a romance with the boss and background which isn’t straightforward  complicates her ambitions, she harnesses it to drive her dream. She is every bit the modern feminist, despite her dancing-for-bucks night job, or maybe because of it. The story is a tale of loyalty, love, jealousy and forgiveness as well as ambition and the timeless rich-versus-poor narrative - all peppered with catchy tunes and delivered by a fun cast.  

I enjoyed the energetic performances by leads Joanne Clifton and Ben Adams (both dancers on Strictly at various times, among other previous roles) and I got to meet them before the show as the team had organised a Flashdance masterclass at Auora dance studios in Belfast (not much fun for me in my worky LBD and a pair of spanx underneath, but hey!)    Notable solos also by the nurse (played by Sasha Latoya) and also by Colin Kiyani as Jimmy.   Having grown up in that era, I remember dancing to some of the faves, like Irene Cara’s ‘What a Feeling!’ in the kitchen as they blasted out on the radio. And I especially loved the finale sequence, which had the whole Opera House audience on its feet (and swinging hips too I might add).   Tickets available now at:   https://www.goh.co.uk/whats-on/flashdance-the-musical/  and the show runs until 25 August

I enjoyed the energetic performances by leads Joanne Clifton and Ben Adams (both dancers on Strictly at various times, among other previous roles) and I got to meet them before the show as the team had organised a Flashdance masterclass at Auora dance studios in Belfast (not much fun for me in my worky LBD and a pair of spanx underneath, but hey!) 

Notable solos also by the nurse (played by Sasha Latoya) and also by Colin Kiyani as Jimmy. 

Having grown up in that era, I remember dancing to some of the faves, like Irene Cara’s ‘What a Feeling!’ in the kitchen as they blasted out on the radio. And I especially loved the finale sequence, which had the whole Opera House audience on its feet (and swinging hips too I might add). 

Tickets available now at:  https://www.goh.co.uk/whats-on/flashdance-the-musical/ and the show runs until 25 August

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FOLIO | THE SWORD AND THE SAND

I’m literally just in from The Lyric Theatre where I watched The Sword and The Sand; a really gritty, aggressive and powerfully dark play by acclaimed writer Pearse Elliot, and I cannot seem to spit  the words out of me fast enough to express what I thought of it - my mind is whizzing and full of the kind of energy that only fear and adrenaline bring.

This was a black and scary play which was quite shocking in parts - but in a way that makes you realise it’s the kind of art which challenges you; theatre which makes you question who you are and wonder what on earth is going on in rough and tough corners of your city - never mind corners of the earth - well beyond your safe little bubble.

The Rawlife Theatre production was directed by Martin McSharry, whose first play for me was Clockwork Orange back in 2005 in the Potthouse, (with Marty McCann among others). The McSharry-Elliot combo has worked brilliantly here - the casting and the performances together make for pretty emotive viewing, even if the main character, Duff, a psychopath played brilliantly by Marty Maguire, is so excellently lacking in emotion and empathy…  (And Pearse told me afterwards that Duff is based on a real-life psycho who is alive and well in an Irish prison - eek!). Maguire’s character leads his impressionable protégées Cricky (Gerard Jordan-Quinn) and Lala (Bernadette Brown) down a path of delusional dreams and idealistic dead ends while also taking advantage of refugee Azir (Mark Asante) whose character deserves every ounce of the audience’s sympathy. And I’m not sure how he does it, but the handsome 6’5” actor has an excellent way of making stage presence feel meek and mouse-like for his role despite his grand stature.

The play is almost Shakespearean in its gore but with a dash of modern Tarantino and a good mash-up of all the seven deadly sins - especially avarice, lust, anger and envy in abundance in Maguire’s Duff.

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This is a go-see play. But not if you don’t like the C word. Or racism. Or misogynistic sexism. But that sh*t unfortunately happens in life and Elliot’s play shows it like it is.

Booking now at The Lyric here: https://lyrictheatre.co.uk/event/the-sword-and-the-sand/

 

FOLIO | THE COLLEEN BAWN

The Lyric Theatre continues its 50th year celebrations with a fantastically funny production of ‘The Colleen Bawn’, Dion Boucicault’s exuberant tale of desire, duty and betrayal, based on an infamous true crime.  The Lyric Theatre and Bruiser Theatre Company are back together for the first time since The 39 Steps, for this madcap, melodramatic, musical co-production. Boucicault’s masterful interweaving of plot and character, comedy and suspense, has been captivating audiences since it premiere in 1860. The F words team LOVED the play - and you can check out my initial video review here too - but first, some words from Jimmy Fay and Lisa May.

Executive Producer of the Lyric, Jimmy Fay, commented: “Don Boucicault’s The Colleen Bawn is a masterpiece of melodrama. It is as spritely and lovely as any ballad and has proved to be a timeless engaging entertainment captivating audiences in its outrageous plots and musical interludes since it first premiered in New York in 1860. We in the Lyric are delighted to again partner with Bruiser and their distinctive style on this wonderful play. Our first collaboration was the enormously successful The 39 Steps and the vibrancy of that production is also well suited to the exuberance of The Colleen Bawn. In fact, Dion Boucicault and this play in particular had a huge effect on the young Alfred Hitchcock when he saw it at the theatre in London in the 1920s. This year we mark the fiftieth anniversary since the Lyric opened its doors on Ridgeway street we plan a year of celebration, surprises and fun.”

Director and Bruiser Theatre Company's Lisa May commented: "Bruiser is thrilled to be back at the Lyric with the melodious mayhem of The Colleen Bawn.  This classic is filled with all the trademark shenanigans of a bashful Bruiser show, and is the perfect follow up to our 2016 collaboration with the Lyric, The 39 Steps.  Audiences can expect the same type of madcap melodrama, as our mischievous and musical cast fill the stage with laughs, love, and live music.  It’s been an absolute hoot to rehearse this timeless piece, and we’re sure audiences will enjoy the fast-paced fun as much as we do!"

A co-production by the Lyric Theatre & Bruiser Theatre Company
Written by Dion Boucicault
Directed by Lisa May
Musical Direction by Matthew Reeve

The Colleen Bawn runs from 7 – 28 April
Tues - Sat: 7.45pm, Sat & Sun matinee: 2.30pm

CAST:  BRYAN QUINN, ENDA KILROY, JO DONNELLY, PATRICK MCBREARTY, CAVAN CLARKE, COLETTE LENNON and MAEVE SMYTH

07 - 10 April: £13
Off-peak (Tues - Thurs & matinees): £15
Peak (Fri & Sat evening): £24.50
Students, unemployed people, and under 20s any performance except Friday and Saturday night: £10.00
Over 65's any matinee: £10

www.lyricbelfast.co.uk
Box Office 028 9038 1081

The Colleen Bawn is funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and Belfast City Council.

FOLIO ¦ GOING WILDE FOR ORIGINAL THEATRE

In this week's theatre review, guest blogger Emer Dooris (from Emer D blog - www.emerdblog.com) takes us back in time to Victorian London and deepest Hertfordshire in this brilliant adaptation of one of Oscar Wilde's most popular plays, 'The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People' (to give it its full name!)...  Emer and I both enjoyed this show early this week at Belfast's Grand Opera House, one of my favourite theatres in the world, because it was the first one I ever visited - I can still remember the awe I felt at the rows and rows of seats to the sky. And like the theatre, this play is one of my favourites too, because I am a huge wordsmith and a massive fan of Wilde's clever puns and salacious satire, he has always featured on my ultimate dinner party guest list. Imagine the banter!

But now, over to Emer:

The Original Theatre Company's production of The Importance of Being Earnest is witty, charming and hilarious. As one of my favourite Oscar Wilde productions, I waited with bated breath to see what direction this production would take, and I was not disappointed.

My last viewing of this play was with an all male cast which added to the hilarious absurdity of the piece, but this time I was transported back to the original Victorian era and no gender swaps (neither direction being a bad thing, but I’m always interested to see how far the director is willing to change/challenge the characters and the actors.) From curtain up, the audience was transported to a luscious, decadent  set complete with wood panelling, chandeliers and hanging baskets. Add in a fantastic cast and the most amazingly outrageous costumes - which seemed to add caricature to the characters, (I was especially enamoured with the bustle on the back of Lady Bracknell’s dress which made this larger than life character a much more formidable force to be reckoned with) and you have a visual feast before the actors even mutter a word.

The genius of Wilde’s script with its perfect one liners and punch lines kept the audience giggling throughout the three act production. I'm not sure if it was opening night production/acoustic problems, or a voice projection issue, but the actors seemed at first a little meek and quiet on stage (audience members nearby remarked they were hard to hear), however, they soon relaxed into their roles by the first half of Act I and the pace and delivery of the lines came up to speed. Special mention should go out to the humorous facial reactions by Susan Penhaligon who played the down beaten, accident prone but love struck Miss Prism. Lady Bracknell, played with aplomb by ational treasure Gwen Taylor, was also fab. Jack Worthing was a voice doppleganger for Colin Firth and Algernon Moncrieff looked just as I would imagine him. I totally loved his dapper and dandy wardrobe.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable production with a well-versed and talented cast, I would highly recommend checking this one before the end of its very short run this Saturday 24th February.

Limited tickets available at www.goh.co.uk

FOLIO | BEAUTY AND THE BEAST AT THE LYRIC

Following on from the truly magnificent Little Red Riding Hood (2015) and the hilarious Gingerbread Mix-Up (2016), I was excited to hear that the Lyric theatre would be giving Beauty and the Beast - one of my favourite fairy tales - a fun twist this festive period.

The story, adapted for the Lyric by writers Derek O’Connor and Trevor J. Colgan, tells the tale of a once sweet-natured singer-songwriter who is played by Ross Hoey (The Commitments, We Will Rock You). Desperate to achieve the fame, fortune and stardom he had always wanted, Hoey makes a deal with the all-powerful, all-controlling music producer Shazza (played fantastically by Orla Gormley) who makes all his dreams come true, but at a high price. In true Frankenstein style, his voice suddenly becomes deep and distorted as he turns wretchedly into The Beast – the furry, beastly creation of powerhouse Shazza.

We soon meet the energetic Theo, played by Mark Dugdale, who is a seemingly zany, job-juggling single dad. Bouncing about the stage, his infectious cheery demeanour, quick-witted quips and songs about pizza soon have the younger audience members in raucous laughter. Fame-hungry but well-meaning, he encourages his fearless daughter Bella (Charlotte McCurry), to become the beast’s assistant and, becoming increasingly worried about her father’s workaholic behaviour, she reluctantly agrees.

As the two tussle, it becomes apparent that the brusque demeanour of The Beast has no effect on the intrepid Belle who is all too willing to stand up to him and his ludicrous demands. With The Beast suffering a year long dry spell of music creation and Bella struggling to rediscover her relinquished  passion for singing after the passing of her mum, to the sympathetic audience, it becomes apparent that these two misfits are simply trying to find their own place in the world. 

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The back-and-forth witticisms that frequently take place between the two are perfectly timed and delivered and as Belle slowly uncovers the Beast’s softer side, the pair create some of the most memorable moments of the show, with their exhilarating exchanges and duets, including, “Maybe All I Need’s a Muse”, (a musical highlight for me).

The fashionista in me loved Shazza’s fabulously fancy costumes – we’re talking protuberant hips, futuristic headpieces and brightly coloured beads as Diane Ennis gives a very obvious nod to the 80s. I also loved The Beast’s costume – pretty wow with his stilts (and a nod goes to Hoey for walking around the stage in them throughout). I didn’t love Belle and Theo’s costumes so much – too tacky for me, but then, maybe that was the point of them!

But, back to the 80s inspo – this is the same decade where my friend and composer Katie Richardson also gets a lot of her musical inspiration from – think Grease, Beach Boys and George Michael. The power ballads that take place throughout the show successfully showcase the extraordinary talent of this small cast of 4. And by pairing this timeless tale with such an enchanting score, this exhilarating family production will have audiences of all ages enthralled. With electric guitars, drums and plenty of bass, director Paul Boyd certainly gives this classic tale some major rock and roll treatment!

Special mention has to go to Ciaran Bagnall who created the incredible revolving set (which is also the base of the set for the adult show currently running at the Lyric ‘What The Reindeer Saw’.

The well-written script gives the well-loved French fairy-tale a modern makeover and whilst little ones can enjoy the funny retorts and fervent acting, the more mature of us are left to explore the deeper messages hidden within the narrative tackling issues such as grief and our insatiable quest to ‘have it all’.

Music, mayhem and tonnes of hidden innuendos that fly hilariously over the heads of the innocent little ones, writers Derek O’Connor and Trevor J. Colgan have given this well-loved classic a hilariously thrilling rock and roll twist! Combined with a powerful soundtrack, talented cast and tale filled with humour this play really does have it all.

The star of the show? For me, it was Orla Gormley as Shazza. An excellent performance.

FOLIO | THE FERRYMAN - GIELGUD THEATRE, LONDON

Unless you've done your homework or some pre-show research, it's not until the third act of this gripping drama that it is explained who The Ferryman in Jez Butterworth's play title links back to. It is of course the mythical Cheron, who ferried souls across the River Styx - except the souls of those who had lied to innocents and those whose bones remain unburied.

But no matter, because there is a whole host of 'stuff' going on - including a live goose, a couple of live rabbits and swearing, glug-swigging children as well as gripping plot lines woven into a historical context with the IRA hunger strikes, Margaret Thatcher's reign as British prime minister and a missing body becoming a political pawn merely by the silence around its recent discovery - to keep you occupied. And it's important to note that this 'stuff' makes for a long performance - 180+ minutes to be precise - but that didn't deter me, nor the thousands who are queuing up to see this masterful follow up to ‘Jerusalem’; because between Butterworth and director Sam Mendes, the content is both interesting and awe-inspiring to watch. 

The play, which is superbly directed by Mendes, is set in an Armagh farmhouse in 1981, where the extended Carney family lives and through which various family members come and go like a busy bus stop. And in this respect, Mendes is as much choreographer as director. Characters are quickly established though, despite the sheer numbers (the play features a cast of 21) and one gets a true sense of how a large family operated in the much more austere early 1980s. Had I not grown up in the 1980s in a bustling family home with seven children and almost 40 cousins on my maternal side alone, I might not have believed the comings and goings as possible, but this side of the story rang very true for me. There was a lot of traffic in our living room at times too, although not as much whiskey. I think that part has been exaggerated to fit with a ‘fightin’ Irish’ stereotype a little.

Family patriarch, Quinn Carney (superbly played by Paddy Considine, who makes his stage debut in The Ferryman) has long since denounced violence with the IRA in favour of life as a farmer with his wife and eight children. From the time his brother Seamus went missing 10 years previously, his sister-in-law Caitlin (Laura Donnelly) and her son have lived as an integral part of the household.

The (very cleverly written) dialogue is powerful and poignant and touches upon emotional personal relationships, love and loss and well as pride, identity and nationalism. The overriding theme though, is that of ambiguous loss. When a family or a community experiences an ambiguous loss, i.e. the loss of a loved one whose physical body is missing, those left behind often create their own meanings and endings to the mysterious stories of disappearance. And as we humans are individual, our story endings (and therefore our expectations and how we manage them) in those kinds of situations are also different and, at times, conflicting. It’s no surprise then, that this situation can create conflict and confusion in families, and we see this pan out as the play develops. It was interesting to see how, as well as the physical ambiguous loss surrounding the ‘Disappeared’ Seamus Carney, we also see the psychological ambiguous loss of Aunt Maggie Far Away  (played brilliantly by Brid Brennan) whose dementia (if that’s what it is) leads her to tell her own roguish versions of her childhood loves, and memories and thoughts as a seer are shared in a magical, fairytale and humane way. The kids who play the family’s children are fantastic supporting actors to her in a couple of scenes as this happens.  

Aunt Maggie is wonderfully juxtaposed with militant Aunt Pat, who is a hardened Republican and IRA supporter. And I couldn’t help but feel endeared to Mary Carney, although Laura Donnelly’s Caitlin is the most favourable and formidable character - her tenacity and strength, as well as good values in the face of a suppressed love developed over a decade for her host Quinn Carney. 

Mendes and Butterworth have worked together before on the scripts for Skyfall and Spectre, the director's two Bond films, but this is their first theatrical collaboration and one which will not disappoint, despite its 3 hour duration. This rich, political and personal production kept me hooked and absorbed in every single scene.