One day in troubled lives
by Owen McCafferty
Review by John Gross, The Sunday Telegraph, 20 April 2003
At the Cottesloe Theatre, the actors, 21 of them, sit in the front row of the stalls. They take turns to come forward on to the stage in twos or threes or small groups. Basic furnishings - an office desk, a shop counter, a pub bar -are hauled on and off to establish the setting. It's a summer day in Belfast, and, Owen McCafferty's Scenes from the Big Picture presents us with a dawn-to-dusk panorama of life in one part of the city. The exact area is never specified. Nor is it made dear whether the characters are Protestants or Catholics. Nobody talks polities. But political violence casts its shadow nonetheless. Two feuding brothers, brought together by the death of their father, find a cache of arms buried in his allotment. A couple are haunted by the death of their son in a sectarian shooting 15 years ago: the body has never been found.
More indirectly, you can see the social and economic damage which conflict has caused. Drug-taking is rife, for instance, a dealer gets knee-capped, And beyond that there are what might be called ordinary troubles; illness, infidelity, the woes that flesh is heir to even in more settled parts of the world.
Each character or couple is locked into a separate: drama, but in the course of the day their stories jostle together and intersect. The criss-crossing is spelt out. particularly clearly whenever a phone is used: the off-stage caller materialises and addresses whomever he is calling face to face.
Packing in so much carries its risks. The problems come in such thick profusion that there is sometimes a suggestion of Eastenders or Brookside. But the author's skill and sense of reality win out. Brief though your glimpses of the characters are, you are caught up in their lives. You never feel that the action is skimped.
Peter Gill's excellent production gives each of the. actors a chance to shine, though a few of them make an especially vivid impression — John Normington as a harassed shopkeeper and June Watson as his cancer-stricken wife; Dermot Crowley and Frances Tomelty as the parents whose son was shot; Karl Johnson as a pub cadger; Ron Donachie as his burly drinking companion, a hard man who is not as hard as he looks.
The younger characters are on the whole less strongly characterised than the older ones, but Kathy Kiera Clarke is unforgettable as the drugdealer's pathetic wisp of girlfriend. The scene where she is beaten. up, which could so easily have seemed gratuitous, is horribly convincing.
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