Jez Butterworth's last play, The River, I described as the 'difficult second album' after the stellar success of Jerusalem - obviously it wasn't his second play but you know what I was getting at. I also, with an inadvertent sense of premonition described it as 'palate cleanser before the next big course'. The Ferryman is certainly that big course and not just because it's 3 hours and 15 minutes long and has a cast of 22 (including a baby) but because it is a delicious feast of a play.
The Carney family live on a farm, it's summer and they are about to get the harvest in. It's a happy time, a time of celebration where everyone comes together, working hard during the day, revelling in the evenings. It is a time of traditions that has birthed happy memories for the three generations of the family. But this is 1981 Northern Ireland, hunger strikers are dying in the Maze and the Good Friday agreement is still 17 years away. The spectre of The Troubles looms large and not just in the memories of past events.
Quinn Carney (Paddy Considine) is head of the family and father of seven children with his sickly wife Mary (Genevieve O'Reilly). Quinn's sister in law Caitlin (Laura Donnelly) and son Oisin (Rob Malone) also live at the farm as does his Aunt Patricia (Dearbhla Molloy), a fervent Nationalist, his gentle, story-telling Uncle Patrick (Des McAleer) and dementia-riddled Aunt Maggie Far Away (Brid Brennan) who has brief moments of lucid recollection described by the family as 'visits'.
What Jez Butterworth has written is a piece rich in personality, humour, passion, tension, politics and history and director Sam Mendes has taken a brilliant script and cast and turned it into a superb tragi-comedy thriller.