Shoot The Crow, Trafalgar Studios, London

Story of the great Belfast lavatory heist goes right down the pan
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

"Shoot the crow" in Belfast means just, "I'm off". Those poor old ugly black birds sure come in for a lot of pointless metaphorical jargon.

But not as pointless as most of this meandering, tedious short play about a day in the life of four Belfast tilers, one of whom is played by James Nesbitt.

Nesbitt is cool. But I never felt last night that he was inside his role of a chap called Socrates - is he philosophical, or what, nudge, nudge ? - unhappily separated from his wife and son. He grinned and shrugged through the evening which steadily became less about grouting on tiles and more about grating on nerves. Socrates and Petesy, his pony-tailed, black T-shirted sidekick played by the sainted Conleth Hill (he of Stones in His Pockets) are planning to nick a pile of tiles from their workplace. Which is a lavatory.

Next door (on a neat little revolving stage), in the shower room, retiring old Ding-Ding (Jim Norton) and wannabe biker Randolph (Packy Lee) are planning an identical heist.

It all goes wrong in imitative David Mamet fashion. But not before we learn about "what is art" - are clothes on a radiator an exhibition?; this passage amused Tracey Emin, a few seats along from me - and was Joe 90 better than Thunderbirds?

McCafferty is a brilliant new Irish dramatist to set alongside Martin McDonagh and Conor McPherson. But this warm-up play - dating from 1997 and given an English premiere in Manchester two years ago - is not a good calling card. His Scenes from the Big Picture, a kaleidoscopic Dylan Thomas-ish record of a Belfast day was an undisputed triumph of Nicholas Hytner's first season in charge at the National. His stage version of Days of Wine and Roses at the Donmar was a beautiful take on a warped relationship. In Shoot the Crow you never get a chance to meet a character or care about them.

Some of this reaction must be related to the venue. The Trafalgar Studios is a monstrosity of development, changing the splendid art deco auditorium of the old Whitehall Theatre into a "functional" space and a silly "experimental" venue below: all this in the name of "democratisation" and "new audiences" who might want to avoid "West End" values and will, certainly, now.

All that matters is the show on offer. And Shoot the Crow, finally, has the virtues of a reasonably good night out at the Bush Theatre, or the Hampstead, or the Royal Court in its present dreary incarnation, but no appeal whatsoever beyond that pathetically limited constituency.