Why has ‘The Ferryman’ been so successful? Here's what Genevieve O’Reilly told us
The Irish actress talks us through Sam Mendes and Jez Butterworth’s play and bringing it to Broadway
The Ferryman is one of the most successful plays to recently appear on the West End.
After debuting on 24 April, 2017, it was the fastest selling play in Royal Court Theatre history, and won big at the Evening Standard, WhatsOnStage and Laurence Olivier awards, with director Sam Mendes and writer Jez Butterworth receiving particular acclaim.
So a transfer to Broadway was always going to be inevitable. Luckily for American theatre-goers, “The Ferryman” has reunited most of its original cast, as well as Mendes, for its stay at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre.
I recently had the chance to speak to Genevieve O’Reilly, who plays Mary Carney in the play, which revolves around the family of a former IRA activist, who is living in rural Northern Ireland in 1981, and she couldn’t hide her excitement about bringing “The Ferryman” to Broadway.
“Maybe it is because we are from the other side of the globe but there is just something exciting about Broadway.”
“The history, the excitement, the energy, and the people, they line up outside the theatre every night, so it creates a great buzz around Broadway itself.”
“So it is so exciting to be here. It is always the way, we always see the excitement in the other. That which is intangible can always be the most exciting. I am sure American actors look at the West End in the same way.”
O’Reilly believes that having nearly a year and a half away from “The Ferryman” before returning for its Broadway run has only added to its depth.
“It is the same piece. We have come back to it and that has been such a joy. In the very act of returning to it and re-rehearsing, and our long history all together, the piece grows more in depth.”
“It is a richer piece just because we have had the luxury of coming back to it. The piece itself is an Irish story and the themes in it are universal. It is really about family and love and loss and grief and pain and joy.”
“It is set against the troubles of Northern Ireland, but it is about relationships and family. We haven’t changed anything because that speaks to everyone, whatever your nationality.”
“That makes any audience anywhere an active listener, even though there is colloquial language in there. But Jez’s writing is so rhythmical, it is almost musical sometimes. And Sam Mendes has stayed true to that.”
But what does O’Reilly put the success of “The Ferryman” down to?
“Forgive me my answer is probably going to seem simplistic, but on the whole people have said to me that it was just a great night in the theatre.”
“They were surprised by how funny it was, how sad it was, and how it moved them to tears from laughter and emotion. It is just a great story. I think Sam is a great storyteller and so is Jez.”
“They are such innate storytellers. That’s what audiences love. They love seeing a good story being well told. And there’s also just the magical theatre in going to see it, too. It is something special.”
O’Reilly couldn’t help but wax lyrical about Mendes and Butterworth, too.
“They have such great respect for each other. They both really like each other, too. They are so passionate about this piece. Arm in arm they have combined to just tell this story in the best way possible.”
“The story of the play is at the center of the collaboration between the director, the writer, the designers, the actors, because the play is the thing. It is not about ego, being cool or interesting, it is just that the story has been at the heart of this experience.”
“Great theatre creates a world that you just believe in. When it is done well. When it is done truly well. It is like a magic trick. Because it suspends your disbelief and it holds you and it rekindles that childishness inside you. I just love it.”
“The Ferryman” is now being performed at Bernard B Jacobs Theatre until the middle of February.