by Owen McCafferty
National Theatre, London
Review by Alan Bird, London Theatre Guide, 11 April 2003
The world premiere of “Scenes From The Big Picture” presents a vivid kaleidoscope of images from the city of Belfast. We are introduced to a variety of inhabitants as we witness 24 hours in the life of that bewildering and troubled city: from youngsters struggling with unemployment, drugs and the stirrings of first love to an elderly couple facing the fears and uncertainties of a possible cancer diagnosis.
Owen McCafferty skilfully captures the essence of each character and event, stripping away all surplus flesh to reveal the raw emotions of fear, anguish and loneliness. Yet this bleak stark picture that he paints allows the small acts of gentleness and love to also be uncovered. The father who has become hardened and indifferent to suffering due to working in the abattoir wishes for something better for his son. The old woman diagnosed with cancer and hides the truth from her husband. And the brothers who have not spoken to each other for years become reconciled at their fathers funeral.
In Peter Gill’s masterful direction each brief scene is painstakingly sculptured to reveal layers of hidden depths to many of the characters- the small gesture of a lonely hand reaching out for comfort or a confused old woman dropping her shopping in the middle of a busy road.
The staging of the play has the feel of a theatrical workshop. The 21 actors sit on a row of chairs at the front of the auditorium, each waiting their moment to go into character and perform. Yet so compelling and focused is the acting from all the cast that you soon overlook the fact that they are sat in –what is effectively- the front row.
It seems criminal to pick out any one actor for praise when the whole cast perform exceptionally well and the production’s success is so obviously a collective work from the company as a whole. However, Ron Donachie as Bobbie Tullet the burly hard man with a kind heart, John Normington and June Watson as Sammy and Betty Lennon the besieged shop keepers’ and Harry Towb as Frank Coin, the gentle widowed old man, especially stand out for me.
A powerful compelling bittersweet collage of love, longing and hope in a sea of despair.
Review by Jonathan Richards
24 hours. 20 characters. An urban story. Owen McCafferty’s new play which examines the lives of 20 characters living in Belfast (many of whom the lives interweave) is a bold step in a new direction for the National Theatre. It is also a very rewarding one.
McCafferty’s writing is wonderfully attentive to the beauty of the real world – the mundane and common place has a poetic elegance which he draws with stunning accuracy and every one of the diverse characters is fully and neatly formed.
It is certainly a large cast for the small Cottesloe Theatre, but there is not a weak link to be found, and Peter Gill’s observant and well paced production is beguiling – the 3 hour running time races past.
A touchingly human, refreshingly unpolitical, beautiful production and play.
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