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Tony nominations for ‘fiercely gripping’ play by St John’s graduate

The production opened on Broadway to rave reviews after a successful run in London's West End

A play set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and written by an alumnus of St John’s has been nominated for nine of America’s most important theatre awards.

Jez Butterworth’s critically acclaimed Broadway play The Ferryman has picked up nominations for Best Play for Butterworth, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for Paddy Considine and Best Direction for Sam Mendes.

The family epic is set in Northern Ireland in 1981 during the Troubles. The production opened on Broadway to rave reviews after a successful run in London's West End, where it won the 2018 Olivier Award for Best New Play for Butterworth, Best Actress for Laura Donnelly and Best Director for Mendes. The production also won three WhatsOnStage Awards and three Evening Standard Theatre Awards.

Paddy Considine and Laura Donnelly in The FerrymanLaura Donnelly and Paddy Considine in The Ferryman. Photo credit: Johan Persson

The Ferryman is set in Northern Ireland in 1981 and follows the lives of the Carney family

This is the second time Butterworth has been nominated for a Best Play at the Tony’s – Jerusalem, Butterworth’s fourth play for the Royal Court Theatre, received the nomination in 2011 but the gong went to War Horse.

Directed by the Oscar-winning film and theatre director Sam Mendes, The Ferryman first opened at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in 2017 where it quickly became the fastest-selling show in the theatre’s history and received outstanding reviews. In 2018 the play transferred to the Jacobs Theatre in New York with the original London cast where it was named by Rolling Stone as ‘the most critically acclaimed play of the season’ and a ‘fiercely gripping play’ by The New York Times.

The Ferryman is set in Northern Ireland in 1981 and follows the lives of the Carney family who are celebrating the annual harvest of the 50-acre family farm. But the past of Quinn Carney, head of the family and a reformed IRA activist, catches up with them when the body of his brother, who went missing at the time of Quinn’s defection from the IRA, is discovered.

Cast members of The FerrymanLaura Donnelly, Dearbhla Molloy and Genevieve O’Reilly. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Butterworth was inspired to write the play by the real-life story of Eugene Simons who was one of 'the disappeared'

Butterworth, who studied English at St John’s from 1988 to 1991, was inspired to write the play by the real-life family story of cast member Laura Donnelly. Her uncle Eugene Simons was one of ‘the disappeared’ – individuals who were abducted, murdered and secretly buried by Republicans during Northern Ireland’s Troubles. He went missing in 1981 when he was just 26 and his body was discovered by chance in 1984 in a bog, miles away from where he disappeared.

As a member of the original London cast and the first Broadway cast of The Ferryman, Donnelly plays the role of Caitlin, the widow of Quinn’s missing brother whose body is found at the start of the play.

The Tony Awards were established in 1947 by the American Theatre Wing to celebrate excellence in the US theatre. They were named after Antoinette Perry actress, director and wartime leader of the American Theatre Wing, who died in 1946.  The 2019 Tony Awards will be presented at a ceremony hosted by James Corden on June 9.

Published: 13/05/19

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