The first English production in almost 100 years of John Ferguson, the classic Ulster play.
“We can’t understand everything. It’s no good trying to puzzle it all out. We must just have faith – that’s all. Just have faith.”
Rediscovered and commissioned by the Finborough Theatre, John Ferguson is an urgent and powerful tale of faith and fear in a time of crisis. It is another of the Finborough Theatre’s acclaimed series of rediscovered Irish dramas, following the huge success of another play by St John Ervine, Mixed Marriage in 2011.
Playwright St John Ervine (1883-1971) was a dramatist, novelist, biographer and critic. A protestant, born in East Belfast, he was for a time an unlikely choice as Literary Manager at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under W.B. Yeats, where John Ferguson was first produced in 1915. His many other plays include Mixed Marriage (1911), Anthony and Anna (1926), The First Mrs. Fraser (1926) and Boyd’s Shop (1939). In later life, Ervine turned his back on Ireland and its politics, and moved to England where he became a noted drama critic for The Observer and The Morning Star, as well as a novelist and a biographer of both Oscar Wilde and Bernard Shaw.
Zoe Rainey who plays the role of Hannah Ferguson, took time out to answer a few questions about her character and the play.
John Ferguson: The first UK production in almost 100 years of this classic Ulster play. What attracted you most to be a part of it?
The fact that we are rediscovering an almost forgotten work was actually one of the things that attracted me most to the play. John Ferguson was so well received at the time – it was first performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin in 1915 to great acclaim, and in 1919 its successful six month stint on Broadway saved the New York Theatre Guild from bankruptcy. WB Yeats loved it and wrote to Ervine congratulating him, saying it was ‘a fragment of life…the best play you have done’. And yet I’d never heard of it! This all intrigued me. Also when I first read it I wanted to get to the end quickly to find out what happened. And finally, it is set in my home county and I really felt a sense of familiarity with the language.
You play the role of Hannah Ferguson, What can you tell us about her and how she fits into the storyline?
Hannah Ferguson is the daughter of John Ferguson. She is headstrong, deeply loved by John and highly sought after by the men of the town. Through the play she is used as collateral and has some incredibly difficult decisions to make to do with the fate of her family. Events spiral out of control and the consequences threaten to destroy her.
What research have you done on your character?
Well conveniently enough Hannah is from County Down in Northern Ireland so the accent is a given! Plus all the obvious cultural references are things I can relate to having been brought up there, albeit 100 years later. The research I focused on most was the role of women in Ireland at this point in history. The play is set in 1880s in the aftermath of the Famine, and with families under strain and vast numbers of women emigrating out of Ireland, women’s roles altered slightly and many married later.
Everyone can read the synopsis of the play, but for you what is the heart of the story?
John Ferguson raises questions about faith, fear and how we react in a crisis – things we can all identify with. For me a big theme is the human condition of contradiction. We all have opinions until it affects ourselves and our own families. It’s also amazing the lengths people go to in order to survive. John turns to the Bible for comfort, while others take matters into their own hands.
There is a lot to see on the West End and Off West End. Why should everyone get along to see John Ferguson at the Finborough Theatre?
With John Ferguson you are getting a unique experience. You are getting a rare glimpse into history, at the same time as being gripped by a timeless story. In a venue like the Finborough Theatre you also get the intimacy and rawness that a bigger commercial theatre can’t offer. And most of all, the play will spark a reaction in you and cause you to feel. That’s what theatre is all about – you want to be challenged and ask yourself “what would I do in this situation?”. I hope it isn’t another 100 years till this play is performed again, as it’s a true classic – but best to make sure you don’t miss out!
Cast: Paul Lloyd as Henry Witherow and Sergeant Kernaghan, Ciaran McIntyre as John Ferguson, Veronica Quilligan as Sarah Ferguson, Zoe Rainey as Hannah Ferguson, Paul Reid as James Caesar, Alan Turkington as Andrew Ferguson, David Walshe as Clutie John
Tuesday, 20th May to Saturday, 14th June 2014
Tuesday to Saturday Evenings at 7.30pm.
Sunday Matinees at 3.00pm.
Saturday Matinees 3.00pm (from 31st May 2014)
Performance length to be confirmed.
Book tickets at:
Monday 12th May 2014