by Owen McCafferty
Review by Susannah Clapp, The Observer, 20 April 2003
A Belfast version of Under Milk Wood may seem about as likely as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich set in Milton Keynes. But Owen McCafferty's enthralling new play, Scenes From the Big Picture, echoes Dylan Thomas's work, tracking a day in the town, with dreaming and embattled voices, sometimes intertwining, sometimes solely musing.
The shadow of strife is everywhere. In one small flat a dealer beats up the girl who's gone to the corner shop (high as a kite, Kathy Kiera Clarke ambles like Bambi, with bendy legs and swimming eyes). The shopkeeper's wife is frozen with grief by news from the hospital, where she also sat beside a woman whose husband is having an affair with a barmaid from the pub in which three old codgers get plastered (Eileen Pollock does a spectacular snoring-down drunk snooze). All this, and yet each scene dances with vitality, many end hopefully, none are resolved predictably.
Peter Gill directs with brilliance, lifting the play into another dimension, proving that a sense of reality doesn't come from dogged naturalism. When not performing, the actors sit in a row with their backs to the audience, assuming their characters as they go towards the stage. The action moves in an undivided space, designed by Alison Chitty so that a desk or bar can suggest a separate area, and yet everyone may swarm together, isolated and busy.
You know the dealer's flat is cramped not because the actors are physically confined but because they bounce off each other with frustration. You feel the panic of a crowded town when, accompanied only by the noise of traffic and yet seemingly barricaded in on all sides, a woman manoeuvres her way across the road, laden with bad news and carrier bags. This is a city of the mind.
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