Belfast playwright Owen McCafferty re-examines conflict in new play

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Belfast playwright Owen McCafferty is one of Northern Ireland’s most successful and well-known writers.

His powerful play about truth and reconciliation, Quietly, wowed critics when it toured to the Edinburgh Festival and has picked up a string of awards since it opened in Dublin in 2012.

And whilst Quietly is the story of two strangers whose lives have been shaped by the events of a single night years previously, McCafferty’s hugely anticipated new play, Fire Below: A War of Words, is a lot different.

Written as a companion piece to Quietly, his latest offering follows Gerry and Rosemary, and Tom and Maggie.

They are two neighbouring couples who have lived through conflict from a distance. Now, nearly 20 years on from the Belfast Peace Agreement, they sit on Gerry and Rosemary’s deck having a glass of wine on a summer’s evening, putting the world to rights while waiting for the 11th night bonfire to be lit in the estate below.

Explained Owen: “None of the characters from Quietly appear in the new play, but there is an incident that is central to Quietly that makes an appearance in Fire Below, so they are linked in that sense.

“There is a connection.

“Quietly is also about reconciliation and after I finished it, I thought I was done with the subject. But then I thought, if Quietly was about reconciliation of a specific violent act - how do people go about trying to reconcile if they haven’t been involved directly in a specific, violent act. I mean, what happens there?

“What do they reconcile about? Is that possible?

“Is it a different type of a thing? That is what I really wanted to examine in Fire Below,” he continues.

“The role of the theatre is to ask questions, and it is up to the audience to make of them what they wish.

“In a sense the theory of all theatre is that it is cathartic for the audience to see a situation played out in front of them.

“If the story works well, it should be a reflection of themselves in some way or another.

“That is what is so unique to theatre - when you do hit the right note, you hit it with everyone in the room.

“You are there feeling it with them. That feeling of a shared experience is so essential.”

Fire Below is a co-production between The Lyric and Abbey Theatre, and is directed by Lyric Executive Producer Jimmy Fay.

Owen adds, “I have worked with Jimmy before, and trust him implicitly, plus all of the actors are superb.

“You always love having plays on your own home turf I think, there just is something about that.

The Lyric and the Abbey Theatre have been very good to me and loyal over the years. It’s a great place to work, there’s a good vibe about it.”

Fire Below: A War of Words is running now in The Lyric Theatre Belfast until October 28.