Owen McCafferty

Plays by Owen McCafferty

The Absence of Women  

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

- he hadn't forgotten i was there - he just didn't care whether i was there or not - it would've been better him forgetting rather than not caring at all

Gerry and Iggy face the ends of their lives in a London hostel. As they drift from present concerns – the funeral of an old drinking partner, the relative sizes of their swollen livers, tube routes, street names, God and the lure of Belfast – to remembering ghosts from long ago, we catch a poignant glimpse of what might have been.

Owen McCafferty's The Absence of Women, heartrending and darkly comic in turn, premiered at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, in February 2010. 

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.

Death of a Comedian

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Steve Johnston, guided and inspired by his girlfriend, is a small-time comedian, raw, original and true. Until he's spotted by an agent, who suggests he could be so much more: his act just needs to change. It's a Faustian pact. As tension builds over the course of four gigs, so too do the audiences. But at what cost?

Death of a Comedian premiered at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, in February 2015 in a co-production with the the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, and Soho Theatre, London.

Fire Below  

Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Twenty years on from the Belfast Peace Agreement, Tom and Maggie are enjoying a glass of wine or two on Gerry and Rosemary’s deck, waiting for the Eleventh Night bonfire to be lit in the estate below. But there is tension in the air; and what these neighbours of old think of one another, truly, feels just one unguarded moment away on this hot summer’s night.

A companion piece to Owen McCafferty’s play Quietly, Fire Below (A War of Words) was a co-production between the Lyric Theatre and the Abbey Theatre and premiered at the Lyric Belfast in association with the Belfast International Arts Festival in October 2017.  

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.


Faber and Faber
Type: Text

Northern Ireland are playing Poland on the TV. Jimmy and Ian, two middle-aged Belfast men, are meeting tonight for the first time. They have a shared past. They need to talk.

A powerful story about violence and forgiveness, Quietly marked Owen McCafferty's Abbey Theatre debut, as part of the Great Irish Writers Season, November 2012.

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.