Children drinking Bushmills for breakfast, an IRA man saying he’d burn his baby for a united Ireland, drunken revelry and banshees howling - the new hit play arriving to Broadway from London sounds like a hoot... or does it?
Pitching up in New York is “The Ferryman” the smash-hit of the London theater season, directed by the legendary Sam Mendes and written by Jez Butterworth. The play is set in Armagh at the height of The Troubles, in 1981.
The play depicts several members of an extended family and the impact on their lives of a disappeared IRA man.
Despite the rave reviews and major awards one Northern Irishman Sean O'Hagan had a very different take. He thinks the play presents a caricature of the Irish, the worst possible depiction of them and plays to the stereotype of the drunk and fighting Irish so many British have.
O'Hagan who writes for The Guardian takes an ax to the production “Everything was overstated, turned up to the max; out came the inevitable roll call of characters-cum-caricatures: the compromised priest, the bitter republican aunt .. the alcoholic with the heart of gold and the menacing IRA men, who, in this instance, moved from silently threatening to the point of caricature.
“Then there’s the drinking: not just the alcoholic uncle, but the whiskey-slugging dad, the sozzled teenage sons and – wait for it – the children allowed thimbleful of Bushmills for breakfast. Comedic, for sure, but so close to a cultural stereotype as to be offensive.
My "paddywhackery" detector went leaping into the red at the first mention of banshees “ he writes.
Quite an attack on a play universally beloved if one were to read most reviews.
I haven't seen it but maybe I have seen the genre, much of Martin McDonagh's work for one with his wild language and Paddy overkill
“I was left with that familiar sense of unease, of dislocation. What I had witnessed, and in part enjoyed, was a play that revealed more about English attitudes to Ireland than it did about Northern Ireland.”
He says it is a play that will likely never open in Belfast where the stereotypes would be spotted in a moment.
The IRA men seem complete caricatures, he said. “The IRA man Muldoon reminds his fellow Provo Quinn of something he said just after the birth of his first son. “You looked me in the eye and said you’d watch that baby burn in a fire if it meant a free Ireland.” Yowza!
“What makes me most uneasy about The Ferryman, though, is the differences the play unconsciously highlights between Irish and English cultural sensibilities, between the Irish people’s idea of themselves and the English idea of them. I was uncomfortable at the gales of laughter that greeted every swear word uttered by the child characters, at the hilarity that ensued every time the uncle opened his bottle of Bushmills or a girl used the word “ride” as shorthand for sex.
“When the crowd gives roaring standing ovations at the end I could not help thinking that this was the sound of a mainly middle-class English audience having their cultural stereotypes confirmed rather than questioned.”
O’Hagan is pretty much a lone voice, reading the other reviews but I think we've seen this Paddy put down before. It also stars the great Fionnula Flanagan, worth the price of admission anywhere, so it can’t be all bad.