John Ferguson

by St John Ervine

20 May - 14 June 2014

“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.”

The first English production in almost 100 years of the classic Ulster play

★★★★ WhatsOnStage

OffWestEnd Award nomination – Best Female Performance – Zoe Rainey

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.

Ulster in the 1880s. John Ferguson lives by the word of God, and believes there is a reason for everything. His wife, Sarah, lives by the earthly reality around her. The Ferguson family are on the brink of eviction from their farm when a local man makes a proposal that could be the answer to their prayers. But as a series of devastating events unfold, the Fergusons find themselves tested to their limits…

Set in a rundown farmhouse in County Down, John Ferguson was first performed at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in 1915, establishing Ervine as one of Ireland’s greatest writers. The play was subsequently performed in 1919 at The Theatre Guild in New York where it was originally scheduled for just five performances – it eventually ran for more than 130, putting the Guild on the Broadway map and saving it from bankruptcy. It was last produced in England by Nigel Playfair at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith in 1920.

About The Playwright St John Ervine

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.

About The Director Emma Faulkner

Director Emma Faulkner returns to the Finborough Theatre where she directed Sam Thompson's Northern Irish classic Over the Bridge (2013). She received the 2010 Regional Theatre Young Director Scheme bursary in association with The Young Vic. Directing includes London 2012: Glasgow (Theatre Uncut at the Bussey Building), Christmas The Musical (Battersea Mess and Music Hall), The Scared Ritual of the Nymphs of Natterjack, part of Bush Bazaar (Bush Theatre), Different is Dangerous (Tamasha), After the End (Dundee Rep and Pleasance, Edinburgh), The Miracle (Dundee Rep), Forfeit, What Love Is (Òran Mór and Dundee Rep), The Ruffian on the Stair, Making Good, Absolute Return (Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond) and Knives in Hens (St Mary's at BAC). Associate Direction includes Sunshine on Leith (National Tour). Assistant Direction includes assisting Alan Ayckbourn on Taking Steps – as well as Sleeping Beauty and A Doll’s House (Dundee Rep), and Alison’s House, Spring Shakespeare, The Lady or the Tiger and The Ring of Truth (Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond).

The Press on John Ferguson

★★★★ WhatsOnStage

OffWestEnd Award nomination – Best Female Performance - Zoe Rainey

“The tiny Finborough Theatre has a reputation for resurrecting forgotten plays and making them seem essential. It has succeeded with John Ferguson, which hasn’t had a professional production for a hundred years. It’s terrific.” Peter Graystone, Church Times

“Miniature place, major play.” Alan Franks,

“St John Ervine's powerful 1915 Ulster classic, now receiving its first English revival since 1920 in Emma Faulkner's strongly cast, atmospheric production.” Paul Taylor, The Independent

“This latest revival by the Finborough of an undeservedly forgotten classic offers a rare opportunity to see a long-neglected masterpiece of Irish theatre; a family tragedy of crippling debt and financial exploitation to which modern times have given a new relevance and meaning.” Sarah Marsh, WhatsOnStage

“This is the second Ervine play that has been put on [at the Finborough Theatre] in recent years and on this evidence you hope there are more rediscoveries to be made. Cleverly directed and well performed, with a tragic and moving momentum, this is an outstanding production of a powerful work.” Robbie Lumsden, Bargain Theatreland

“An intriguing revival.” Ian Foster, The Public Reviews

“If you want to understand the Ulster Protestant ethos, you could do worse than watch this 1915 play by the Belfast-born St John Ervine. …It offers a powerful portrait of the strengths and weaknesses of an iron faith and is proof that Ervine, who went on to become The Observer's theatre critic, was a natural dramatist….There is something of real substance in a play that shows how, in a religious culture, biblical texts can be used either to vindicate or deplore acts of class revenge.” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“The production is a small miracle….A Unionist counterpart to the Republican Dubliners of Juno and the Paycock.” Alan Franks,

“Simply set and passionately acted, the play is a moral thriller….Apparently the production was under-cooked on press night and newspaper critics were tentative. By the time I saw it three nights later it had played in and the audience was completely gripped. Honestly, a rock would have wept.” Peter Graystone, Church Times

“A thought-provoking and gripping morality play.” Carolin Kopplin, UK Theatre Network

“This production suggests that 19th century-style melodrama can still carry power if played with full faith in the genre and the emotional reality.” Gerald Berkowitz, The Stage

“Great performances.” Daisy Bowie-Sell, Time Out

“The cast are excellent.” Carolin Kopplin, UK Theatre Network

“The small and select cast of seven all give strong performances.” Sarah Marsh, WhatsOnStage

“I adored David Walshe’s ‘Clutie’ John.” Alan Franks,

“David Walshe as "Clutie" John lends a lovely sly, pert note to this whistle-playing Shakespearean fool.” Paul Taylor, The Independent

“Zoe Rainey’s Hannah is a vivid presence.” Ian Foster, The Public Reviews

“A splendidly conflicted Zoe Rainey.” Paul Taylor, The Independent

“A grimly satisfying turn from Alan Turkington.” Ian Foster, The Public Reviews

“Ciaran McIntyre provides a solid centre throughout.” Gerald Berkowitz, The Stage

“As kind old man Ferguson, Ciaran McIntyre is exceptionally endearing.” Daisy Bowie-Sell, Time Out

“Ciaran McIntyre's Ferguson suggests a piece of crumbling granite, Veronica Quilligan is all silvery vehemence as his wife.” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“Ciaran McIntyre provides a quietly solid emotional core to the play as the father.” Gerald Berkowitz, TheatreguideLondon

“Ciaran McIntyre is tremendously moving in the title role.” Peter Graystone, Church Times

“There is strong support from Veronica Quilligan as his wife, Zoe Rainey as his daughter and David Walshe.” Gerald Berkowitz, The Stage

“Paul Lloyd gives a chilling performance” Sarah Marsh, WhatsOnStage

“Alan Turkington as the family son Andrew shows commanding stage presence that exudes an air of brooding menace.” Sarah Marsh, WhatsOnStage

“Director Emma Faulkner uses a traverse format, which raises the stakes by enabling you to watch those nosey onlookers just as if they were importunate neighbours – and you yourself no better.” Alan Franks,

“Directed by Emma Faulkner with sensitivity.” Carolin Kopplin, UK Theatre Network

“The direction from Emma Faulkner keeps this Irish classic fresh and though we’re clearly in a different era during the play, the story doesn’t feel dated. Passion fuels this piece and it’s portrayed by everyone involved.” The Good Review

“Yet for all that could make this archaic, under Emma Faulkner’s direction, what is uncovered here isn’t a dusty museum piece but a moving and truthful drama.” Robbie Lumsden, Bargain Theatreland

“Faulkner encourages a strong emotional honesty from her actors.” Ian Foster, The Public Reviews

The Press on Director Emma Faulkner

“The Finborough regularly stages Irish plays and this is one of the best…Emma Faulkner’s production has an authentic documentary feel and is totally involving…the show deserves a longer run…What the West End needs is a small theatre to which fringe productions of this calibre can transfer” British Theatre Guide on Over the Bridge

“Urgent … and so well performed that it should not be missed” ★★★★★ Five Stars, WhatsOnStage on After the End

“Dennis Kelly’s script is realized skillfully here … an absorbing and sharply delivered exploration of human behaviour pushed to extremes” ★★★★ Four Stars, The Independent on After the End

“A fine production” ★★★★ Four Stars, The Scotsman on After the End

“A tense intriguing debate … immaculately performed” ★★★★ Four Stars, The Scotsman on Forfeit

“A pleasure… Faulkner has polished it up nicely, too...sustaining the serio-comic mood right up to the hilariously blithe, cynical ending.” The Times on The Ruffian on the Stair

“Worth crossing London to see.. played with such finesse” British Theatre Guide on The Ruffian on the Stair

The Press on St John Ervine's Mixed Marriage, Rediscovered by the Finborough Theatre in 2001

★★★★ Four Stars, Time Out, The Guardian, WhatsOnStage, Fourthwall Magazine and Exeunt Magazine

Time Out Critics’ Choice

"Not for the first time, one looks to the Finborough to come up with the most compelling play in London... It has a raw, visceral power.” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“Not for the first time, the Finborough demolishes the myth of twentieth century British theatre being an effete wasteland pre-'Look Back in Anger', with the first revival in 90 years of this domestic tragedy by St John Ervine... A lean, potent drama that does not deserve to be forgotten.” Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

“No Irish play in recent months has given me more pleasure than this revival of a forgotten piece by St John Ervine. Written in 1911, long before the Belfast-born Ervine became drama critic of the Observer, it offers an urgent, powerful and still-topical account of the destructive impact of religious sectarianism on family life.” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“The Finborough have billed their latest show as a "rediscovery" – and what a good one it proves to be.” Alex Packer, WhatsOnStage

“Anyone who believes issue-based political dramas only arrived in the 1970s will be shocked by Mixed Marriage, St. John Ervine's tragedy unearthed by the unstintingly enterprising Finborough Theater. Premiered in 1911 at Dublin's Abbey Theater and unseen in London in 90 years, it presents a plea for tolerance amid religious sectarian violence and embeds it into a family drama.” David Benedict, Variety

“A bruiser of a play; one that grabs you by the collar and simply shakes for an hour and twenty minutes.” Matt Trueman, Carousel of Fantasies
“Ervine's 1911 portrayal of a pre-partition Belfast working class ripped apart by religious conflict and mutual mistrust is powerful stuff, couched in startlingly modern language.” Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

“It also anticipates Sean O'Casey in showing...that women were models of pragmatic endurance in an Ireland being destroyed by headstrong men.” Michael Billington, The Guardian

“The Finborough Theatre – true to its tradition – must be praised for bringing forward another neglected play by a well known playwright.” Shaun Traynor, The Irish World

20 May - 14 June 2014

Tickets and Times

Tuesday 7:30pm
Wednesday 7:30pm
Thursday 7:30pm
Friday 7:30pm
Saturday 3:00pm (from 31 May 2014)
Sunday 3:00pm

Two hours and fifteen minutes with one interval