Skip to main content

Days of Wine and Roses - Owen McCafferty Takes To Drink

“I don't think I've ever seen a farce before,” claims playwright Owen
McCafferty. “It was an eye-opener for me, because everyone around me
was laughing, and I just didn't get it.”

McCafferty is talking about his visit to the Lyric Theatre, Belfast,
the night before, when he watched Kenneth Branagh and Rob Bryden mug
their way through The Painkiller. Adapted and directed by Sean Foley,
one half of The Right Size, The Painkiller is a version of a work by
French screen-writer/director Francis Veber, who originally filmed it
in1973 as L'emmerdeur, or A Pain in the Ass. Notable for the casting of
Belgian torch singer Jacques Brel in the lead role, L'emmerdeur has
since been remade twice, once by Billy Wilder. For McCafferty, at
least, Foley's version seems to have lost something in translation.

“Irish writers don't tend to go down that route,” he says of what now
in his eyes look like some very English japes.

McCafferty certainly hasn't, as his version of J.P.Miller's Days of
Wine and Roses made clear when it first appeared at the Donmar
Warehouse in 2005 prior to a west end transfer. This new co-production
by Glasgow's Tron Theatre and the already cinematically inclined
Theatre Jezebel sticks with McCafferty's reimagining of Blake Edwards'
1962 drink-sodden big-screen vehicle for Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick.
Here, McCafferty relocates the action from the fast-moving American PR
world to 1960s London, where two Belfast emigres take flight, before
lapsing into a downward spiral of alcoholism. The Henry Mancini-scored
film had already been liberal in its adaptation of the original John
Frankenheimer-directed TV play starring Cliff Robertson and Piper
Laurie four years before. This allowed McCafferty considerable license
in his approach.

“I'd always liked the movie," he says, “but writing it was the
strangest journey. At the time I'd never done an adaptation, and when I
started it I set it in San Francisco, and tried to follow the original
story as much as I could. But was halfway through writing it, and it
was crap. I couldn't hear the voices in it, and I just thought either
don't do it, or find another way, or an equivalent way of doing it.”

Shifting the action closer to home opened up a world of possibilities.

“We're always told about this myth of the swinging sixties,” McCafferty
explains. “Well, that didn't happen for everybody. I thought about the
people who were coming from Ireland to London at that time, and in
terms of writing the play it made the picture slightly bigger. The
important thing was to keep the play's essence, but doing it the way I
did meant it wasn't just about alcoholism, but also made it a bit about
the Irish experience. There's huge connections between England and
Ireland, and a huge amount of people went over, so there's several
generations there now.

“At the start of the play, London is this wonderful experience, and if
they weren't alcoholics they'd still be there. Nut at the end it's
horrendous, because one of them is leaving the other one behind. Cities
do that to people. They can be lonely places.”

This may explain why McCafferty's version of Days of Wine and Roses has
been successfully produced throughout Europe, South America and beyond.
Audiences in Spain, Argentina, Chile and Finland have all found
something in the play to relate to.

“There's two things, “ McCafferty observes. “There's something about
the immigrant thing, and there's something about love and addiction.
These things are universal. All these countries have their problems
with alcohol, but it doesn't seem to cause the trouble in these places
that it does in Ireland and Scotland. The way the story's told in the
play, you find out there's different types of alcoholism. One is
social, and one is almost genetic. His alcoholism is to do with his
work, and he can stop. With her, at the start of the play she doesn't
drink at all, but as soon as she takes a drink, you know she's doomed.”

As well as the play's human tragedy, as McCafferty sees it, there's
something about the play's name that also holds an appeal.

“Even if people haven't seen the movie, they'll know the phrase. I'm
doing a verbatim piece next year for the hundredth anniversary of the
sinking of the Titanic, and as soon as people hear the word 'titanic'
they know about it, or they think they know about it.”

J.P. Miller took the title of his original play from a line in Vitae
Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetet Incohare Longam, an 1896 poem by English
writer Ernest Dowson. Miller's appropriation might well have put the
phrase into popular parlance, but despite its acclaim elsewhere,
McCafferty's version has yet to break America. Miller's own stage
version of the play opened briefly in New York in 2003, two years after
its author's death. While there was talk of a U.S. transfer of the
Donmar production, once McCafferty relocated the play, producers lost
interest. Miller's widow and daughter did attend the London opening,

“It was a weird experience, because half of me was really concerned
about it, and half of me couldn't care less, because I'd done it. But
it was delightful meeting them, because it made it very human, and this
sounds wanky, but there's no other way of saying it, but it was like a
baton had been passed. You become aware of your responsibility from one
playwright to another. If Miller were alive and watched my version of
the play, he would recognise it, but it would be different. He'd have
to recognise it, or else there's no point.”

For McCafferty, Days of Wine and Roses is a love story as much as

“It's very difficult to write about love now. Mainly people want to
watch plays about what's going on in society, so with Days of Wine and
Roses, you're looking at something that's a problem, but when people go
to see it, it's a love story. So if it's difficult to sell something
solely on the strength of a relationship, Days of Wine and Roses does
it through other means.

“Every time it's been on, people, especially women, always come up to
me and say, that's my husband up there. Everyone knows someone like
that, which is a sadness in itself, but the play's quite raw. There are
certain things said in that play looking at the rawness of
relationships, and that hits home in a way that's very painful indeed.”

Days of Wine and Roses, Tron Theatre, Glasgow, October 14th-29th

The Herald, October 11th 2011



Popular posts from this blog

The Maids

Dundee Rep

Two sisters sit in glass cases either side of the stage at the start of Eve Jamieson's production of Jean Genet's nasty little study of warped aspiration and abuse of power. Bathed in red light, the women look like artefacts in some cheap thrill waxworks horror-show, or else exhibits in a human zoo. Either way, they are both trapped, immortalised in a freak-show possibly of their own making.

Once the sisters come to life and drape themselves in the sumptuous bedroom of their absent mistress, they raid her bulging wardrobe to try on otherwise untouchable glad-rags and jewellery. As they do, the grotesque parody of the high-life they aspire to turns uglier by the second. When the Mistress returns, as played with daring abandon by Emily Winter as a glamour-chasing narcissist who gets her kicks from drooling over the criminal classes, you can't really blame the sisters for their fantasy of killing her.

Slabs of sound slice the air to punctuate each scene of Mart…


Tramway, Glasgow until July 2nd
Four stars

In the dead of night, the audience are split in two and led under-cover into lamp-lit tented structures. Inside, what look like peasant women on the run lead us down a ramp and into a large circular pod. It feels part cathedral, part space-ship, and to come blinking into the light of such a fantastical structure after stumbling in the dark disorientates and overwhelms. Sat around the pod as if awaiting prayers to begin, we watch as performers Nerea Bello and Judith Williams incant mournfully on either side of the room. Their keening chorales embark on a voyage of their own, twisting around each other by way of the international language of singing. As if in sympathy, the walls wail and whisper, before starting to move as those on either side of the pod are left stranded, a gulf between them.

This international co-commission between Glasgow Life and the Merchant City Festival, Sydney Harbour Foreshaw Authority in Australia and Urbane Kienste …

High Society

Pitlochry Festival Theatre
Four stars

The stage looks gift-wrapped with a sparklingly expensive bow at the opening of John Durnin's revival of Arthur Kopit's Cole Porter based musical that reinvigorates the starry 1956 film where it originated. With the film itself drawing from Philip Barry's play, The Philadelphia Story, Kopit and Porter's depiction of the Long Island jet set says much about over-privileged party people, but retains a fizz that keeps it going till all passion is seemingly spent.
The action is based around the forthcoming nuptials of drop-dead gorgeous society gal and serial bride, Tracy Lord. With her daddy having run off with a show-girl, and ex beau next door CK Dexter Haven set sail for other shores, Tracy settles for George, a stinking rich would-be president for whom stupidity, as someone observes, sits on his shoulders like a crown. Enter Tracy's match-making kid sister Dinah and a pair of reporters for a trashy scandal sheet looking to stit…