The writer and lead actress of a new play ‘Unfaithful’ speaks to Fiona O’Brien about why monogamy is not always black and white
Belfast playwright Owen McCafferty’s latest offering comes to London’s Found111 pop-up theatre and theatre company this month, and boasts an impressive cast, with Niamh Cusack and Sean Campion starring.
They play a middle-aged couple who find themselves questioning their lives and relationship once their only child moves away, and end up starting extra-marital relationships with younger lovers. The twist also sees that the younger lovers involved are actually in a relationship themselves. McCafferty is renowned for his ability of looking in on the ordinary person and showing what makes them tick.
“The play is part of a group of three or four, and this one focused on the notion of infidelity. I wanted to write about it without moral judgement,” he says. “People always act like it is the end of the world. But sometimes the consequences may not be truly bad. All too often on TV being unfaithful is portrayed as the worst thing. I mean soap operas seem to be obsessed with it in their storylines.
“But it can be an accepting thing, depending on where it happens and on what stage in life. So I wanted to pose all of those questions.”
Niamh Cusack who plays Joan in the play was drawn to the script because of McCafferty’s strong role.
“I really wanted to do it because it was a really meaty role which is very hard to come by for women of my age,” she says.
McCafferty says his characters come organically, and that it was not a conscious decision to make it feminist-friendly. “I wanted to write about male and female relationships so therefore those characters were needed. It didn’t occur to do it on purpose, I just wanted to give all the characters equal stage time.”
At present the actors are going through the first stage of rehearsals, a time that Cusack adores.
“I love really getting into the character, and the cast we have are fabulous. Obviously me and Sean are Irish, so we have decided to base it somewhere quite boring like Swindon, where Tom and Joan are struggling to deal with this upcoming mortality towards the end of their life, whereas the younger couple move there to make a new life for themselves.
“I love the fact we have this time to discuss, and see how my understanding can be altered by someone else’s. I also find that an audience changes a perception too, and they are a part of this whole make-believe we are trying to create. “The audience probably don’t realise how much they are involved in colouring the experience, and that’s why I love theatre. It is definitely my favourite form of acting as the reaction is so immediate. If you work in film or television it can be months before you see the finished article, and that’s it it’s over.
“Theatre is my first love and if I am not there for a while I really do yearn for it.” McCafferty has just finished a production in New York so has not made it to rehearsals as yet, but is looking forward to it.
“It is one of the best things about working in theatre. You always want to pass on your work and see how it is interpreted by others.
“I am not precious about that in any way at all, it is how it works. It is a collaborative process. We have a great cast and I am very pleased about the venue too.
“It looks amazing and even though the play premiered at Edinburgh last year, this is very much new and the vibe that this cast and setting will give is very exciting.” Niamh notes the humour that is in the dialogue between characters, but even though humour is often relied upon a lot in hard, real-life situations it is not always a key component to McCafferty’s work.
“It all depends on the situation. I like to focus on the aftermath of an event rather than the event itself, and I am always interested in what we consider normal people, rather than those at the centre of society.
“I hope an audience can relate that way, that they see themselves but I don’t think they always necessarily make that distinction.
“But in terms of humour I don’t try to fit it in where it is not appropriate.
“And I wouldn’t want to fall into that trap either, of all Irish plays have to be funny. Humour can ease things along in a story, but it depends on the character. “And unless it was a comedy I think it would be a bit odd if all of the characters were funny.”
Cusack is clearly a fan of McCafferty stating: “He is a great observer of humanity, he really gets people and nobody in this play are as they seem.
“There are four very complex characters and I suppose like in all plays, there is a discovery where they go on a journey and that is very much the case in Unfaithful.
“Sean said yesterday that his character is an ‘every-man’. The audience will recognise something about him in themselves, and it won’t be specific to what he does or says, but what he is talking about.
“It explores what in life makes things worth living, and what dreams we should hold on to and let go.
“We are meant to communicate with the people we are closest to but sometimes they are the people we are least truthful with, apart from maybe ourselves.
“Part of the thing that moves this couple is their age. They are in their fifties and are really confronted by mortality.”