by Owen McCafferty
National Theatre, London
Review by Michael Coveney, Daily Mail, 11 April 2003
NICHOLAS Hytner's new reign at the National Theatre will attract a lot of publicity with the opening in two weeks' time of the scabrous Jerry Springer — The Opera.
But his first production in charge is an amazingly well acted and complex, poetic play, set on the streets of Belfast, by new writer Owen McCafferty.
The director is Peter Gill, and his work is simply breathtaking.
The auditorium is painted blue by designer Alison Chitty, Blue with a brick wall, blue with tables and chairs, blue with a night sky that is starlit with an old man's memories at the end.
Actors — all 21 of them — spring from the front row for their scenes, and scene-changes, like greyhounds in the traps. This
pulsating yet brilliantly controlled movement creates a complementary texture to the dialogue, which proceeds in apparently unconnected passages before we see the links.
A shop steward is torn between his childless wife and his girl-friend in the bar.
A shopkeeper wonders where the violence will end. Young kids go swimming. A drug dealer beats up his girlfriend.
The factory's secretary, trying to convince the shop steward to unload a container, has a husband still grieving for their longmissing dead son. Two estranged brothers meet in the pub on the day of their dad's funeral. They later find buried guns they knew nothing about.
It sounds banal, or gritty, or like a soap opera. But the play has an irresistible musical momentum and a quality of surprise that continuously transfixes the action in another dimension of reality.
The shopkeeper's wife wields a baseball bat after a boy produces a fake gun. The childless wife steals a baby substitute from the hospital where she works.
Faultless acting all round, particularly from Patrick O'Kane, Michelle Fairley, Dermot Crowley and Frances Tomelty.
And if I've ever seen a better pub drunk than Eileen Pollock's lonely old widow, I cannot recall it. Cheers.
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