Theatre: Sam Mendes’s IRA drama is a triumph

A major theatrical event: The Ferryman’s Turlough Convery (left) and Gerard Horan

The moment the Royal Court announced it was staging Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman, the whole season sold out and a West End transfer was guaranteed. The drama is set on a farm in rural County Armagh in Northern Ireland in 1981, the year the hunger strikers died. A man, who has been missing these past 10 years, has been found dead, shot by the IRA, his body preserved in a bog. What should his brother (Paddy Considine), an IRA activist who defected 10 years ago, do? This powerful play, directed by Sam Mendes and extremely well acted, is a major theatrical event and comes strongly recommended.

What should be done with the senile, the mentally handicapped, the disabled, the epileptics and those with Down’s syndrome? The Nazis had a euthanasia programme which was signed by Hitler on September 1, 1939. Some 200,000 people were rounded up, placed in psychiatric hospitals and systematically murdered. Stephen Unwin’s All Our Children at the Jermyn Street Theatre is fiction, but based on fact. The big scene is an imagined meeting and debate between the paediatrician who runs such a clinic and the brave, outspoken Clemens August von Galen, Bishop of Münster, famous for his three sermons denouncing the euthanasia programme and the Nazis. “Life,” he says, “is indivisible.”

Southwark Playhouse stages two interesting and very rare revivals: James Shirley’s The Cardinal, a characteristic, if watered-down, anti-Catholic Jacobean drama from 1641, and Sam Shepard’s potent absurdist family drama, A Lie of the Mind, from 1985. When it comes to writing about mythical America and American dysfunctional families, Shepard is the absolute master; he can be tragic even while actively courting laughter.

Bertolt Brecht’s famous satire, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, written in 1941, equated Hitler and the Nazis with Al Capone and Chicago gangsters. In this adaptation by Bruce Norris and in this cabaret production by Simon Evans at Donmar Warehouse, Hitler is notable for his absence. Instead there are glib jokes about Donald Trump. Lenny Henry has the comic-serious authority mobster that Ui needs; but if Ui is not Hitler, then what is the point?

In a series of short, sharp, satiric scenes, partly real, partly fantastic, Martin Crimp in The Treatment explores what happens to scripts when disenchanted movie producers get hold of them. Art changes everything. When an author objects strongly to her real-life story being turned into fiction, she is told: “No one’s story is theirs alone.” It’s enough to drive any writer mad.

I entered an unusually darkened auditorium at the Lyric, Hammersmith – and remained in the dark for most of Paul Auster’s highly obscure City of Glass, which turns out to be a search for identity and language. The technical side of the production is impressive, with its animated backdrops and video designs, which are 59 Productions’ speciality.

Emma Rice’s second and final season at Shakespeare’s Globe opens with Daniel Kramer’s volatile, cartoonish take on Romeo and Juliet, which will have purists screaming. The star-cross’d lovers are no longer teenagers but in their late thirties. The spectacle will appeal most to audiences who find Shakespeare boring and don’t care about what he actually wrote, and would much rather have a director messing with the text.