Shoot The Crow Finally Comes Home

Owen McCafferty's play has never been produced in Belfast. Listen to a scene from rehearsals

‘So, is it alright to have swearing on CultureNorthernIreland?’ Emma Jordan asks seriously. Jordan is directing Prime Cut Productions' Northern Ireland premiere of Owen McCafferty’s acclaimed play Shoot the Crow. The language used by characters is... salty, to say the least, but Jordan is understandably reluctant to bowdlerize it.

‘I appreciate that some people will find it offensive,’ she says, sounding generally regretful. ‘But the language is absolutely essential. It isn’t just about the meaning, it’s about the musicality of the swearing. Owen McCafferty uses bad language and it is poetry.’

Odd as it sounds to those of us raised with threats of having our mouths washed out with soap, it is true. Whether you object to the language or not, the dialogue between the characters in Shoot the Crow flows like a ballad. Take out the guttural expletives of Northern Ireland’s favourite swear words and the scene deflates, some essential vitality is lost.

For Jordan the language is part of McCafferty’s ongoing preoccupation with the idea of the working man. In Shoot the Crow the characters discuss the meaning of art, life and family in what Jordan describes as being ‘almost a Belfast rhyming slang’. The use of the socio-economic pidgin serves to remind the audience that these four men will never get their head above water.

‘Given the economic climate at the minute,’ Jordan says. ‘I think Shoot the Crow speaks very eloquently to our times.’ Prime Cut have contemporised McCafferty’s play by locating it very deliberately within a capitalist milieu. They took inspiration from the empty offices on the waterfront by the Lagan and tried to reconstruct that environment on stage: an abandoned edifice to capitalism with these ‘tiny wee guys’ in the middle of it.

‘These are the guys at the thin end of the wedge, the lean end of the building game,’ Jordan explains, leaning forwards intently. ‘They are the ones who get hit the hardest. The system is designed to maintain itself, so that “people who don’t have a pot to piss in, remain without a pot to piss in”.’

Even the aspirations of the criminals around which Shoot the Crow revolves are limited by their lives: school trips for their kids, a window-cleaning round for their retirement or a motorcycle so they can pretend to escape the drudgery. It hardly sounds like a barrel of laughs, but Jordan says that it is. In fact, the other reason that Prime Cut wanted to produce Shoot the Crow was to give the audience a good night out.

‘Prime Cut has a reputation for doing work that is quite thought provoking and sometimes serious,’ Jordan says. ‘But people can forget that we’ve also successfully produced some comedies too, just not for a while. This seemed like a good time to remind them.'

Jordan’s confident that Shoot the Crow will tap local funny-bones. Although the universal elements of the character’s plight have appealed to audiences from Tokyo to London’s West End - where Jimmy Nesbitt played Socrates - the humour is quintessentially Northern Irish. It's a play in the local idiom that 'totally connects with the sense of humour here'.

Jordan is excited to be bringing it home. Particularly since one of the cast, Stephen Kennedy, is going to get to perform in his hometown of Strabane after an 18 year professional career in London. 'It makes me happy that Prime Cut is in a position to be able to bring actors like that home to work,' Jordan explains. 'As well as continuing to support locally based actors.'

Shoot the Crow was first produced in 2002 and Prime Cut has been planning to stage a production in Northern Ireland ever since. For one reason or another, however, it never came to pass. ‘Not to sound superstitious,’ Jordan concludes, with a disarming shrug, 'but perhaps the reason it never worked out to bring Shoot the Crow here before, was that it was meant to be here now?’

Shoot the Crow runs at the the Waterfront Studio from February 10-19 before moving on to the Theatre At The Mill, Newtownabbey on February 24, the Marketplace Theatre, Armagh on February 25 and the Alley Arts Centre, Strabane on February 26.