Monday, 11 August 2014

Owen McCafferty - Unfaithful

It is plain from the title of Owen McCafferty's new play as to what
it's about. Unfaithful focuses on two couples, one younger, the other
older, who are woken from their domestic torpor when they are forced to
come to terms with the consequences of different kinds of betrayal. For
McCafferty, wrestling for words as he sits on the sofa of the Traverse
Theatre's Leith warehouse rehearsal space, it's not always easy to
explain where his play came from.

“In the society we live in,” McCafferty says in his staccato Belfast
accent, “things like somebody being unfaithful, especially as seen
through the media, looks like a very black and white world, whereas we
all live in a far greyer area than that nowadays, and I wanted to write
something to show that. If somebody was to be unfaithful, what comes
out of that isn' t necessarily a bad thing. It can have a good
consequence. That's what we're looking at in the play. Everything in it
is about being unfaithful, whether that's to do with a small lie or
whether it's about having sex with someone you've just met. I'm not
interested in the actual act. It's the aftermath. It's like putting sex
or violence onstage. It looks stupid. It's what happens afterwards that

Without giving too much away, in Unfaithful, this involves the older
couple having a form of reawakening.

“It's asking what it means to be unfaithful,” says McCafferty, “and how
important that act of unfaithfulness is compared to others. This is
taking things out of context, but you can be unfaithful just by talking
to someone. It's how they deal with it. In relationships, people may
make a tacit agreement not to talk about something, in the knowledge
that if they do confront these things it all might kick off. Soap
operas are all driven by the idea of being caught, and that being
caught is the worst thing, but it's not, and in that way I suppose
long-term things are more important than minor misdemeanours.”

Volatile relationships and things left unsaid have been at the heart of
McCafferty's work ever since he first came to prominence with Mojo
Mickeybo, a story about a Catholic boy and a Protestant boy who bond
over Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid during the Troubles in 1970s
Northern Ireland. In Scotland, Theatre Jezebel produced McCafferty's
adaptation of Days of Wine and Roses, JP Miller's booze-soaked TV play,
which he relocated from America to 1960s London, where an Irish couple
tear emotional chunks out of each other. This time last year at the
Traverse, a new play, Quietly, simmered its way through a bar-room
confrontation that confronted Northern Ireland's prejudices past and

“I'd written Quietly and Unfaithful quite closely together, and they
seemed to be very similar,” McCafferty says. “Both plays deal with the
result of an act, and they're both deliberately quite short. I wanted
to write something that was compact and complete. They are what they

McCafferty seems to have purged himself of this this approach for his
next piece. Death of A Comedian, is set over four performances by a
comedian who moves from being an edgy outsider to a commercial success.

“He becomes bland,” says McCafferty. “I don't like to talk like this,
because it makes things in my head sound more grandiose than they are,
but that's about capitalism destroying whatever creative soul you have
within you, and that's the price of success.”

McCafferty pauses to reflect.

“I hadn't thought about this,” he says, “but there seems to be a
connection between all three play. They're all about consequence and
action. They're also saying that bad things don't necessarily lead to
bad things, but also that you shouldn't think you can do something and
escape the emotional consequences of that.”

Where betrayal and infidelity onstage are too often the preserve of
well-heeled literary types, McCafferty's world is occupied by
characters with precious few economic safety nets and with only each
other for comfort.

“I've never written about what we perceive to be important people,”
McCafferty says. “I think it's an absurdity that the higher up the
scale you go that you think you know more. Why should we be led to
believe that Tony Blair knows any more than us. It's a nonsense. In the
job we do, to write this play, we can talk about infidelity, and we do
in a way that other people don't. But instead of looking at it as a
morality, we should infuse it with love. The play is about love. It's
not about morality. Take the morality out of it, and just look at what
happens and why people react the way they do.”

Unfaithful, Traverse Theatre, Aug 1-24, various times.

The Herald, August 7th 2014


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