‘Jerusalem’ playwright Jez Butterworth dedicated the win to partner and actress Laura Donnelly, whose family story inspired the plot of ‘The Ferryman.’
Frontrunner The Ferryman took home the award for best play at the 73rd annual Tony Awards on Sunday night.
Written by Jez Butterworth (Jerusalem, The River), The Ferryman portrays a family’s day in rural Northern Ireland in 1981 during the Troubles. The show evolves into an unsettling thriller as the country’s violent past interrupts the autumn grain harvest.
Many members of the West End cast resumed their roles in the New York production, including Paddy Considine and Laura Donnelly, who lead the ensemble cast of 21. The story revolves around grain farmer Quinn Carney (Considine) and his sister-in-law Caitlin (Donnelly), with a colorful group of extended family members and Derry townspeople filling out the rest of the cast.
The show’s original West End swept the British theater awards circuit, namely winning the 2018 Olivier Award for best new play. Similarly, the Broadway cast stunned critics, with the production earning nine Tony nominations and winning four.
Director Sam Mendes, absent on Sunday night, won the Tony for best direction of a play. The show’s other accolades included best costume design of a play and best scenic design of a play.
Also up for best play at this year’s Tony Awards were Choir Boy, Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus, Ink and What the Constitution Means to Me.
According to Butterworth, many of the characters are based on his own extended family.
“All of the names of the young girls in it are the names of my mother’s sisters and my mother. The grandmothers are both named after my grandmothers,” Butterworth exclusively told The Hollywood Reporter. “My grandmother slowly stretched out in the corner of our kitchen for years and so she would phase in and out. Once I get going and write, it’s a bit like a bonfire that you can just chuck stuff on and watch it blow up.”
Speaking off-script during the awards show, Butterworth thanked Donnelly, who played the part while pregnant with her and Butterworth’s child. Her family inspired the story as well, as her uncle disappeared during the Troubles.
Butterworth dedicated the award for best play to Donnelly, handing her the statuette.
The Hollywood Reporter’s critic David Rooney called the play “boldly compelling” in its visually alive depiction of love, hate and war.
James Corden hosted the show, which aired live from New York’s Radio City Music Hall.