Tag Archives: Genevieve O’Reilly

“The Ferryman” at the Gielgud Theatre

Superstar playwright Jez Butterworth’s latest drama was a hit before it even opened: the West End transfer was announced simultaneous to its sell-out opening at the Royal Court and a new cast will soon take the show into 2018. This long harvest day’s journey into tragedy is the story of the Carney family, farmers in Northern Ireland whose connections with the IRA haunt them. This is a big family drama – and not just due to the size of the household, but because of Butterworth’s exquisite writing.

There’s a luxurious feel to the show – although this is a working-class world – created by Rob Howell’s design and director Sam Mendes, who resists the temptation to rush a single moment. Three hours is a long running time for a new play, but every minute holds you. Above all, a huge company, including some extraordinary younger performers, are awe-inspiring. It really shouldn’t be possible to have so many characters so clearly delineated by their own compelling stories.

There’s a lot of laughter in the family, a real sense of warmth, and not a few Irish stereotypes. This has been commented on by Sean O’Hagan, better qualified than myself. To be sure, there’s a lot of whisky drinking and some gags around children swearing seem cheap, if effective. But the stories told, swirling around the discovery of a murdered family member’s body, broaden the play’s themes beyond the Troubles.

Myth and history populate the play. The past preoccupies Aunt Maggie Far Away, “visiting” from her dementia, and obsesses Aunt Pat, whose brother died in the Easter Rising: two brilliant roles engendering stunning performances from Bríd Brennan and Dearbhla Molloy respectively. Meanwhile Uncle Pat has plenty of anecdotes while, with another strong performance from Des McAleer (pictured top), enforcing the play’s theme of death, which escalates with such foreboding.

Tom Glynn-Carney
Tom Glynn-Carney

There’s a point to all the marvellously crafted yarns – The Uses of Story Telling, if you’re looking for a dissertation title. The tales form a link to violence inherited by the young. A terrific scene with four youths, led with febrile energy by Tom Glynn-Carney, shows them captivated by accounts of IRA leader Mr Muldoon (Stuart Graham) and the 1981 hunger strikers. In the shadows (there’s plenty of eavesdropping in this play – stories morph into rumour and hearsay, after all) is an even younger “wean”, skilfully depicted by Rob Malone, who is driven to desperate measures.

Laura Donnelly and Genevieve O’Reilly
Laura Donnelly and Genevieve O’Reilly

At the heart of the play is a love triangle that leads to star performances. A repressed affair between the play’s patriarch Quinn, performed with charming assurance by Paddy Considine, and his bereaved sister-in-law Caitlin, a role Laura Donnelly articulates marvellously, leads to some of the best dialogue. Although appearing relatively late, Quinn’s wife Mary is given her due through Genevieve O’Reilly’s quiet performance. The unrequited emotions of all three create an unusual love story that thrums with excitement. As Quinn’s IRA past rears its head with a tension that would please any thriller writer, Mendes’ strengths shine. The fear of what might come next hangs over the final hour of the show. Butterworth manages to juggle all this with enviable dexterity, producing a work of complexity and popular appeal.

Until 6 January 2018

www.TheFerrymanPlay.com

Photos by Johan Persson

“Splendour” at the Donmar Warehouse

Abi Morgan’s play imagines a strained meeting between a dictator’s wife and her best friend, while they wait with a photographer and interpreter for a portrait shoot that’s running late. The location is an unspecified imitation democracy on the brink of civil war. It’s not a bad setup to explore politics and art, and Morgan does both with insight. The fact that all four characters are women makes a welcome change.

Morgan’s style might rankle some: the characters voice their inner thoughts and memories, while scenes are repeated, at different speeds with cuts to the dialogue. Remarkably, Morgan makes the play easy to follow and, for my money, the technique is a success. Knowing what someone is thinking, hearing them play with the presentation of events, alongside confusion over language in a very literal sense (the photographer doesn’t speak the local tongue), enforces unspoken communication and inner turmoil marvellously.

Genevieve-OReilly-Kathryn-in-Splendour-at-the-Donmar-Warehouse-photo-by-Johan-Persson-700x455
Genevieve O’Reilly

The four strong roles have attracted four great performers. The outsiders on the scene are Genevieve O’Reilly, who plays the hard-nosed photographer, managing to make this cool observer compelling, and Zawe Ashton, who acts as her interpreter, with an eye on the make. Ashton’s role is tough – she has to show us the desperation of regular people living in this toppling state, and this is done without making her seem a device. But the really interesting dynamic is that between Sinéad Cusack and Michelle Fairley, the president’s dolled-up wife, who might just be the power behind the throne, and her browbeaten best friend. Both actresses give tremendous performances.

Splendour has a simple plot that, a little like the characters, comes close to predictable. But what Morgan does with her, often startling, technique is the real source of interest. If all the stopping and starting of scenes sounds a little pretentious, the structure and rhythm of the text has a very down-to-earth function – to create tension. Weapons sound, but in the distance, specifics of time and place are never mentioned and no politicians or revolutionaries, as such, appear on stage. Yet Morgan has created a unique… OK then… splendid, political thriller of great originality.

Until 26 September 2015

www.donmarwarehouse.com

Photos by Johan Persson

“Birdsong” at the Comedy Theatre

Sebastian Faulks’ much-loved 1993 novel, Birdsong, was one of those books you saw everyone reading on the tube. A page-turner with depth, it seemed to cry out for an adaptation. Rachel Wagstaff’s version, now showing at the Comedy Theatre, is a dutiful effort that should please fans of the text.

The stage version certainly doesn’t plod. The first act deals with our hero Stephen Wraysford’s affair with Isabelle Azaire. They fall in love while he is staying with her and her husband in northern France, run off together and then separate, all in fifty minutes. Action then moves to the trenches of the First World War, where we see Stephen as a broken man. The Armistice heralds his final encounter with Isabelle, culminating in a tenuous yet beautiful sense of reconciliation.

Wagstaff packs too much of the novel into the evening and should have been more adventurous with her selection. Like John Napier’s clever design, which literally emphasises the book, the three-hour show seems intimidated by the novel’s success. You start to think a mini-series might have been a better idea: TV would have more time for the story and it would solve the problem of canned birdsong, which is never going to ring true in the theatre.

Trevor Nunn’s direction is fascinating. Nunn has learned lessons from his recent success at the Menier Chocolate Factory where the small size of the venue led to an intense production of A Little Night Music. Now, in Birdsong, he concentrates on the intimate scenes appropriate to a love story. The danger is that these occasionally look a little lost on a West End stage, but the strategy is sound – he is playing to the production’s strengths, namely, the cast.

Birdsong brims with quality performances. Nicholas Farrell plays Isabelle’s betrayed husband and then the Captain who tutors Stephen in the trenches, and handles both roles marvellously. Iain Mitchell has less to do, playing a local French dignitary and the regiment’s Colonel, but he provides some much needed light relief and should be satisfied that he gives the impression of being wasted in both roles.

It’s the leads that make the evening. Ben Barnes plays Wraysford and Genevieve O’Reilly Isabelle. Their chemistry is fantastic and free of period cliché. O’Reilly manages to show the stifling home life she escapes from without protesting too much and maintain sympathy when her actions seem brutal. Barnes is even better, playing a passionate man without giving any time to nonsense about stiff upper lips and coming across as a true individual we warm to. These fresh performances give the play its necessary emotional punch. They are so powerful that suddenly the birdsong sounds genuine after all.

Until 15 January 2011

www.ambassadortickets.com

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 1 October 2010 for The London Magazine