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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Scenes From The Big Picture
Cottesloe Theatre        Spring 2003

Owen McCafferty's new play for the National Theatre has a cast of twenty-one. Among the residents of a Belfast neighbourhood are a couple waiting for word that their long-missing son's body has been found.

The mother runs the office of the local abattoir, whose owner is frantically trying to keep the business afloat. She has to deal with the union steward, who is having it off with the local barmaid while his wife yearns for a child.

The barmaid presides over a wake where the dead man's feuding sons make some startling discoveries about him, while local drunks cadge drinks. The son of one of the drunks encounters the doped-up girlfriend of the local drug dealer, who is running from . . . .

Actually, I've left out several characters, like the shopkeeper whose wife has cancer, and the teenagers who repeatedly rob him. But you get the idea. What we have here is a soap opera, an EastEnders set in Belfast.

It's cleverly constructed and well written, as soap operas go, but only very rarely do you get a glimpse of what McCafferty was reaching for, a portrait of a self-contained community, an evocative day-in-the-life-of along the lines of Thomas' Under Milkwood.

Had he succeeded in that kind of mythic evocation of place and community, this play would be remarkable. But as it is, it's just interminable.

Director Peter Gill keeps things moving with some very clever staging that has the actors sitting in the front row of the audience and rushing up in various combinations to change scenery and move us from subplot to subplot.

A cast including Patrick O'Kane, Michelle Fairley, Ron Donachie, and Aoife McMahon do uniformly admirable jobs of fleshing out their characters and almost make us believe in and care about them.

But in the end, it's just one soap opera cliche after another, after another, after another, for two and a half hours that seem much longer.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Scenes From The Big Picture - National Theatre 2003

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