Owen McCafferty

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Plays by Owen McCafferty

Antigone (trans. McCafferty)

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Owen McCafferty's version of Sophocles’ Antigone is a muscular take on the ancient Greek tragedy that offers a reflection on the nature of power, democracy and human rights. It was first performed by Prime Cut Productions at the Waterfront Studio Hall, Belfast, in October 2008 as part of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival.

The play takes place in a huge hall within the palace of Creon, the new ruler of Thebes. The palace is in ruins after battle and, although the war has ended, with peace comes conflict. Antigone’s brother Polyneices lies on the battlefield where he fell, his burial outlawed by Creon. Antigone is determined to overrule him and attempts to persuade her sister, Ismene, to join her in rebellion against the king, but to no avail. When Creon discovers that Antigone has disobeyed him and buried her brother, she is captured, a decision that triggers a catastrophic chain reaction resulting in the double suicide of his son Haemon and wife Eurydice.

Sophocles’ tragedy has a powerful resonance in post-conflict Northern Ireland and this version is set entirely within the walls of a palace destroyed by war. Written in his distinctive style, McCafferty highlights the human frailties of these mythic characters by drawing attention to the family saga element of the story.

The Prime Cut Productions premiere was directed by Owen McCafferty and designed by Lorna Ritchie. It was performed by Walter McMonagle, Katy Ducker (as Antigone), Rosie McClelland, Ian McElhinney, Conor MacNeill, Paul Mallon, Harry Towb, Eoin McCafferty, Tom Loane, Chris Corrigan, Julia Dearden, Cat Barter, Barry Etherson and Matt Faris.

Closing Time

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Owen McCafferty's Closing Time is a tender portrait of love, dignity and emotional damage set in a Belfast pub. It was first performed at the National Theatre, London, on 9 September 2002. Performances took place in the Lyttelton Loft as part of the National Theatre’s Transformation Season.

The play is set in a 'grubby pub/hotel' owned by feisty but fading Vera and her permanently half-drunk husband Ronnie. The pub provides a sanctuary from the outside world for those who live or drink there. Images on the large-screen television (which is always on, but with its sound muted) tell of Belfast’s ‘transformation’ after years of sectarian violence. But as the drinks flow and night closes in, the reality of life sinks in and everybody’s ability to cope with each other and themselves is eroded.

The National Theatre premiere was directed by James Kerr and designed by Rae Smith. It was performed by Pam Ferris, Patrick O’Kane, Jim Norton, Lalor Roddy and Kieran Ahern.

Cold Comfort

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Owen McCafferty’s short play Cold Comfort is a monologue about a man returning to his native Belfast for his father's funeral. It was first performed by Prime Cut Productions Theatre Company at the Old Museum Arts Centre in Belfast in May 2005.

The play is performed on an empty stage 'but for three simple wooden chairs and a coffin'. Kevin Toner is a washed-up, hard-drinking bricklayer who has returned to Belfast after years of living in Kilburn, London. He has come to attend his father’s funeral. Alone onstage with the coffin bearing his father’s remains, his trusty whisky always to hand, he begins one last conversation with his ‘da’ as he takes an often painful trip down memory lane. A chair is transformed into his mother as he plagues her with questions as to why she left the family home, and another becomes his estranged wife, Theresa, with whom he shared a drink problem. As Kevin slowly grows more inebriated, a portrait emerges of a man grown haggard and bitter from his lonely existence, and from a family tragedy for which he shares the guilt.

The Prime Cut premiere was directed by Owen McCafferty and designed by David Craig. It was performed by Patrick O'Kane.

Days of Wine and Roses

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Owen McCafferty's Days of Wine and Roses is a free adaptation of JP Miller's screenplay of the same name for a 1962 film directed by Blake Edwards. (Miller adapted the screenplay from his earlier teleplay for a 1958 episode of US television drama anthology series Playhouse 90, also called Days of Wine and Roses.)

McCafferty's version is a two-hander about a young couple from Belfast trying to make a new start in 1960s London, but succumbing to alcoholism. It was first performed at the Donmar Warehouse, London, on 17 February 2005.

The play's action takes place between 1962 and 1970. In the opening scene, Donal meets Mona in the departure lounge at Belfast Airport. Both are leaving to start a new life in London, but when teetotal Mona takes a sip from Donal's hipflask, their fates are sealed. As they marry and have a son, their London lives prosper. But, gradually, drink turns from a source of celebration into a ruinous nightly drug. And, while Donal shows the will to survive, Mona is on a doomed, downward spiral.

The title was taken by JP Miller from an 1896 poem 'Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam' by Ernest Dowson, which contains the line 'They are not long, the days of wine and roses'.

The Donmar premiere was directed by Peter Gill and designed by Alison Chitty, with Anne-Marie Duff as Mona and Peter McDonald as Donal.

I Won’t Dance – Don’t Ask Me

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

An early short monologue play from Northern Irish writer Owen McCafferty.

It’s four o’clock in the morning and middle-aged Gus McMahon can’t sleep. He’s drinking a can of Guinness and begins a rambling monologue to his only companion, his cat Sparky. Whilst his wife and son sleep upstairs, Gus rails against anything that crosses his path but we soon learn the real reason behind his desperate unhappiness. The bookkeepers he managed for twenty years has been sold and he’s been unceremoniously dumped by the new management in favour of young blood. This new situation has opened up questions about his present and past life that he never previously considered.

McCafferty worked in a variety of jobs before becoming a writer. He broke through in the 1990s with a series of short plays, including I Won’t Dance – Don’t Ask Me, which is one of his earliest performed pieces and introduced audiences his bracing poetic style.

I Won’t Dance – Don’t Ask Me was first performed at the Ulster Arts Club in Belfast in 1993.

Mojo Mickybo

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Owen McCafferty’s play Mojo Mickybo is about a friendship between two boys growing up in Belfast – in the summer of 1970 – a friendship that at first is immune to the sectarian violence taking place around them, but which nonetheless is ultimately destroyed by it. The play was first performed at Andrews Lane Studio, Dublin, on 15 October 1998.

The play's action is set in Belfast over the summer of 1970. Mojo and his friend Mickybo are two nine-year-old boys from opposing sides of the sectarian divide, but whose friendship at first transcends the violence erupting around them in the summer of 'The Troubles'. They are 'thick as two small thieves', playing headers, being mouthy, building huts, spitting from cinema balconies. The action is played as theatrical flashback: the actors playing the two boys 'should be in their late thirties/early forties', each of them also playing a variety of other characters (including the boys' parents), often inhabiting a world of fantasy, such as re-enacting their favourite film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The two performers constantly slip in and out of roles and imaginary worlds, with the violence of The Troubles only obliquely impacting on them – until finally their friendship is destroyed in a way that they only later come to understand.

The Dublin premiere was directed by Karl Wallace and designed by Terry Loane, with Niall Shanahan as Mojo and Fergal Mcllherron as Mickybo.

The production subsequently toured in Ireland and Scotland in the autumn of 1998 and spring of 1999, with David Gorry as Mojo and Darren Lawless as Mickybo.

It then transferred to the United States in the spring of 2000, with David Gorry as Mojo and Richard Dormer as Mickybo.

A feature film version, Mickybo and Me, was released in 2004, adapted and directed by Terry Loane, with Julie Walters, Ciarán Hinds and Gina McKee in supporting roles.

The play was revived at the Arcola Theatre, London, in 2007, afterwards transferring to the Trafalgar Studios in the West End.

Scenes from the Big Picture

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Owen McCafferty's play Scenes from the Big Picture is a panoramic portrait of contemporary Belfast with a multi-stranded narrative featuring over twenty characters. The play's action, although depicted on a large dramatic canvas, explores the impact of small and apparently insignificant moments in its characters' lives. It was first performed in the Cottesloe auditorium of the National Theatre, London, on 10 April 2003.

The play takes place over the course of a hot summer’s day in an imagined area of 'present-day' Belfast. There’s a gang of four kids heading for dead-end jobs in the local meat factory, which is itself going under despite the owner’s PA’s desperate attempts to keep the place afloat. Meanwhile, an elderly couple who run the grocer’s shop are being bullied and two junkies are planning their escape. The local pub is populated by a ragtag of drunken old men, a shop steward is having trouble juggling the demands of his wife and his mistress, and two estranged brothers are speaking for the first time in years at their father’s wake. Over the course of the day, individual lives intersect, and private and public worlds collide.

The National Theatre premiere was directed by Peter Gill and designed by Alison Chitty. It was performed by Darren Healy, Elaine Cassidy, Aoife McMahon, Patrick O’Kane, John Normington, Kathy Kiera Clarke, June Watson, Frances Tomelty, Dermot Crowley, Harry Towb, Chris Corrigan, Karl Johnson, Ron Donachie, Eileen Pollock, Michelle Fairley, Ruairi Conaghan, Gerard Jordan, Packy Lee, Stuart McQuarrie, Breffni McKenna and Andy Moore.

The play won both the 2004 Meyer-Whitworth Award and the 2004 John Whiting Award.

Shoot the Crow

Nick Hern Books
Type: Text

Owen McCafferty’s Shoot the Crow is a play about four Belfast tilers who come up with a scam to make some fast money. It was premiered by Druid Theatre Company at the Druid Lane Theatre, Galway, Ireland, on 26 February 1997.

The play takes place over the course of a single working Friday on a building site in Belfast. Four tilers are in the process of tiling a public toilet and shower area. Ding-Ding, aged 65, is the oldest, with one eye on retirement but little to show for it. Randolph is only 19 and still has hopes that this menial job might lead to a career. Petesy, 36, is the group’s alpha male. Socrates, 39, is true to his name, earnest and contemplative. Independently, Ding-Ding and Petesy hit on the idea of stealing a pallet-load of tiles to make a quick buck, but nothing goes according to plan. Randolph finds himself browbeaten into agreeing to help both, each of them entirely ignorant that the other is planning an identical scam.

Making use of distinctive Belfast speech rhythms, McCafferty explores the limitations of the manual labourer’s life, stuck on a minimum wage with no hope of moving any higher up the scale. The play also dissects the complexities of working-class male relationships in the workplace.

The Druid premiere was directed by David Parnell and designed by Paul McCavley, with David Ganley as Socrates, Anthony Brophy as Petesy, Patrick Waldron as Ding-Ding and Fergal McElherran as Randolph.

The play received its British premiere on 12 February 2003 at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, in a production directed by Jacob Murray and designed by Laurie Dennett, with Patrick O’Kane as Socrates, Conleth Hill as Petesy, Walter McMonagle as Ding-Ding and Paul Dinnen as Randolph.

It was revived at the Trafalgar Studios in the West End on 11 October 2005 (previews from 28 September) in a Sonia Friedman production directed by Robert Delamere and designed by Simon Higlett, with Jim Norton as Ding-Ding, James Nesbitt as Socrates, Packy Lee as Randolph and Conleth Hill as Petesy.

Picture of Owen McCafferty

Born in 1961, Owen McCafferty lives with his wife, three children and granddaughter in Belfast. His work for the stage includes Shoot the Crow (Druid, Galway, 1997; Royal Exchange, Manchester, 2003), Mojo Mickybo (Kabosh, Belfast, 1998), Closing Time (National Theatre, London, 2002), Cold Comfort (Primecut Productions, Belfast, 2002), Scenes from the Big Picture (National Theatre, London, 2003), Days of Wine and Roses (Donmar Warehouse, 2005), a version of Sophocles' Antigone (Primecut Productions, Belfast, 2008) and The Absence of Women (Lyric Theatre, Belfast, 2010). He has won the Meyer-Whitworth, John Whiting and Evening Standard Awards for New Playwriting.