Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Theatre review: John Ferguson

In one of the Northern Irish mini-seasons they occasionally have, the Finborough Theatre are staging a pair of neglected Ulster plays. First up is the main feature, John Ferguson, dating from the early 20th century but set in the 1880s, in a failing farm near a small town. John Ferguson (Ciaran McIntyre) is getting old and sick, and has had to ask his son Andrew (Alan Turkington) to drop his plans to become a minister, in order to help him tend the land. This isn't going to be enough though, and the family is about to default on the mortgage. A possible solution comes from the well-off but weak-willed grocer Jimmy (Paul Reid,) who offers to pay off the farm's debts if John's daughter Hannah (Zoe Rainey) marries him. Hannah dithers over whether to enter a loveless marriage to save the family farm, and as she changes her mind events take a violent turn.

St John Ervine's play hasn't been seen in London since 1920, and it's not hard to see why. It's a flabby melodrama whose story is clumsily advanced by sinister village idiot Clutie John (David Walshe,) and Emma Faulkner's production never gains enough impetus to convince that it still has a place on stage.

John himself is a model of Christian charity whose ability to forgive, and trust to a divine plan, still astounds his wife Sarah Ferguson1 (Veronica Quilligan.) McIntyre's performance as this faith is tested has the makings of something intensely moving, if it was at the centre of stronger material. But instead this is dated, tedious stuff interspersed with bouts of histrionics; the funereal pace of the second act is hardly helped by the fact that every story beat has been telegraphed by the end of the first.

John Ferguson by St John Ervine is booking until the 14th of June at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes including interval.

1she's gone down in the world since she was Duchess of York

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