‘Now for Our Irish Wars’ – Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman and the Irish Dramatic Canon
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Lonergan, Patrick. (2020). ‘Now for Our Irish Wars’ – Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman and the Irish Dramatic Canon. Contemporary Theatre Review, 30(4), 456-473. doi:10.1080/10486801.2020.1821197
This article explores the Irish features of Jez Butterworth’s _The Ferryman_, focussing on his use of overfamiliar Irish tropes as well as his intertextual allusions to writers such as Brian Friel, WB Yeats, and Seamus Heaney. These links are considered in the context of its first production, in 2017-18, which appeared at a time when the constitutional status of Northern Ireland within the UK was being fiercely debated. The article considers the critical reaction to that production, asking why _The Ferryman_ was so frequently described as an ‘Irish’ play. To respond to that question, the article explores the two forms of cultural transmission that are detectable in the play: the influence of Irish drama upon Butterworth’s own practice as a playwright, and the way in which his characters’ actions are over-determined by the repetition of family stories and traditions across several generations. Butterworth’s decision to explore the influence of the Irish dramatic tradition on his own writing demonstrates that there are ways to reach into the past in order to find new ways forward. In the act of writing _The Ferryman_, Butterworth is offering a response to the dilemma that the play itself dramatizes. The political and artistic consequences of that strategy need to be considered, as does the way in which _The Ferryman_ builds on themes and tropes present in Butterworth's earlier plays.