Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
Time Out review
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Scenes from the Big Picture

by Owen McCafferty

National Theatre, London

Review by Patrick Marmion, Time Out, 15 April 2003

Politicians may struggle, to unite Northern Ireland in Starmont, but Owen McCafferty effortlessly binds together the whole of Belfast in the National Theatre. There is even some danger of the Ulster writer blowing a lifetime's material in one go. Set over 24 hours, his play covers a funeral, an affair, a missing body, a drug dealer, a frightened shopkeeper, an infertile couple, a scam at an abattoir, a brothers' feud, an alcoholics' melange and a gang of roving corner boys all overlaid with domestic and gangland violence. It resonates with everything from Robert Altman's 'Short Cuts' to James Joyce's 'Ulysses', Dylan Thomas's 'Under Milk Wood and 'EastEnders'.

Most invigorating is that the play is written in a brassy Belfast brogue reflecting a bomb-blasted Ulster stoicism lurks a terrific humour, as only the Northern Irish can do it - at once self-aggrandising and self-effacing, it's an ambivalence of self-image and outlook which McCafferty exploits, always camouflaging what he himself thinks of his' characters. Meanwhile he weaves a cleverly interlinking narrative and only towards the end does his clear-eyed Ulster realism mist up with sentimental Irish romanticism.

Whatever the narrative wobbles, Peter Gill's spirited cast plot a steady course. Apart from negotiating the whole of teeming Belfast, they are obliged to navigate Alison Chitty's ugly electric blue set which sprawls beneath a yellow, pink and green end-of-terrace mural that represents the Belfast road map. Seated in the font row of the auditorium, the 21 actors leap in and out of their seats to partake in the endlessly flowing traffic of McCafferty's drama. It is impossible and would be injurious to single out performers for special praise, Suffice to say that students of ensemble acting will find everything here, from gut wrenching grief to cackling joy.

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