THEATRE REVIEW: Grief Is the Thing with Feathers starring Cillian Murphy at the Barbican Theatre

WORTH A LOOK?: ***

WHERE? Barbican RUNTIME: 85 minutes (with no interval)

WHEN? 27/3, runs to 13/4/19

Cillian Murphy plays both a grieving husband and the crow who arrives to play havoc with the spirits of his family during this ambitious adaptation of an award-winning novel about love, loss and living.

  • Read on for reasons including why this reminds of the anarchic spirit of Glastonbury Festival

We’ve not read the novel and what surprises about the production is that it has an anarchic, Glastonbury Festival-like feel to it with the Crow (Murphy in a black dressing gown-turned-hoodie, hopping swiftly from foot to foot) speaking through a voice modulator to enhance his menacing tones and sometimes wielding a megaphone.

Murphy began his career performing as a rock musician and, after turning down a record deal, started his acting career in theatre.

In September 1996 he made his professional acting debut on the stage playing the part of a Cork teenager in Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs. The pair have worked together many times since and do so again here with Walsh (Once, Lazarus) adapting Max Porter’s award-winning novel.

The show originally ran in Galway and Dublin and is now making its UK debut. It was nominated for Best Production at the Irish Times Theatre Awards.

Murphy (star of films 28 Days Later, the Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception and BBC gangster series Peaky Blinders) is the father of two young boys who we meet in their London flat in the face of the unbearable sadness of their mother’s sudden and unexpected death.

They are visited by the Crow who threatens to stay until they no longer need him. The bird creates chaos, simulating sex, leaping from the stage into the audience to shout insults at its members.

The play is a mish-mash of verse, straight dialogue, bold visual imagery and recorded interludes. Most affecting is the recorded appearance of Murphy’s wife (played by Hattie Morahan) who recalls a visit by her husband to a Q&A with his hero, author Ted Hughes, at which the pair eventually meet after our hero fluffs a question to him.

Like all the best actors, Murphy immerses himself in the role to such an extent that he is unrecognisable. The anarchic nature of the material means sometimes the emotional power of the material is blunted but the 85 minutes in his company is certainly never dull.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy Barbican. Tickets
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