Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Shoot the Crow

Owen McCafferty’s play is touring again. First performed many years ago in Galway and only brought north for the first time last year, Shoot the Crow is being staged in a variety of locations over the next month courtesy of Prime Cut Productions.

A team of four tilers work in two adjoining rooms of a Belfast apartment. While set in Belfast and voice in the city’s vernacular, the play avoids the usual forms on conflict. The tilers despise each other, not because of their religion, but instead because one has a big gob and another philosophises too much.

The set is light and minimalist, like so many modern apartments. The partially tiled floor – that becomes more fully tiled during the play – is tilted ever so slightly towards the audience. Scenes looking out towards Titanic Quarter with traffic moving over the M3 flyover are projected against the wall to ceiling windows in the apartment’s back wall. It’s as if the audience is sitting watching the Obel Tower being fitted out. (If you look carefully, you can spot that the film clip is mirrored and there are two sets of Harland & Wolff yellow cranes!)

There’s a touch of the Auf Biedesen, Pet about Shoot the Crow: the play conveys the frustrations of the working man.

A lifetime spent grafting and you end up with a thank you note [from the boss], hand written mind you. (Ding Ding)

Production shot from Shoot the Crow’s 2012 run in the Grand Opera House, Randolph (Packy Lee) and Ding Ding (Walter McMonagle)

Played by actor Walter McMonagle, it’s Ding Ding’s last day and he is about to put down his trowel and pick up a shammy to take on a gentle window cleaning round in his retirement – if he can afford to buy the round off his neighbour.

Young Randolph (Packy Lee) is learning his trade and does the heavy lifting around the site. He wants to save up “a few squid a week” to buy a motorbike, and dreams of riding through France with a girl on the back. Ding Ding has spotted a pallet of extra tiles sitting outside the house and talks Randolph into “tea leafing” them at lunchtime in a bid to get the “reddies” to fund their ambitions.

In the other room, Petesy (Paddy Jenkins) is listening to the latest deep thoughts from pseudo-intellectual Socrates (Marty Maguire), who displays the greatest emotional intelligence of the group. Great minds think alike and Petesy can see an opportunity stacked up on a pallet outside that would pay for his gifted daughter to go on a school exchange trip to France.

Socrates walked out on his family in much the same way his own father did to him: “the same shit goes around”. So Socrates is making tentative steps to restore his relationship with his estranged wife and son. Some cash would sweeten things with his wife. But can he make the jump from words to action?

Production shot from Shoot the Crow’s 2012 run in the Grand Opera House, Socrates (Marty Maguire) and Petesy (Paddy Jenkins)

And so the play spirals towards competing plans for pilfering while avoiding farce. The laughs were sparse at the beginning of the play. Yet by the end of the first half, infectious giggling and guffawing was rippling around the theatre. Some of the silences – prolonged silences – engendered the most mirth.

The shorter second half has a bout of physicality, a breakout of honesty, a discussion about art, and a final twist that reminds the working men just who pulls their strings.

Is it morally right that we only get paid to keep our heads a few inches above the shit? (Petesy)

I noticed a small number of people who didn’t return to their seats after the interval. The Grand Opera House website doesn’t explicitly reference the very frequent use of strong language throughout the play. (Update - GOH website now updated.) When Petesy speaks to the box or his wife on the phone, the F word suddenly vanishes. Context is everything. As Socrates reminded the retiring Ding Ding:

When you’re a window cleaner you can’t be talking like a tiler.

In the end, McCafferty’s play is not about four sweary workmen. It’s very much in line with the current Occupy mood (while considerably predating it). Real people with real pressures, struggling to make ends meet. Struggling to do the best thing for their families. Living and working with other people who have different needs, yet trying hard to fulfil their own dreams and the desires of those they love. Not wanting to ‘shoot the crow’ like the previous generation.

I warmed up to the play as it progressed. At its best, the dialogue in Shoot the Crow is intense and the verbal sparring is so well choreographed and timed. But some of the more sedate parts of the play were less gripping and lacked the adhesion to keep me stuck to the unfolding plot. Others around me laughed and chortled, and everyone I spoke to leaving the theatre loved it. While the Grand Opera House tickets are expensive, the play is a bargain in many of the other venues. Worth parting with some reddies to give it a shot.

(Disclaimer: I attended Tuesday night’s performance using a complimentary ticket.)

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