Writer: Billy Roche
Director: Paul Robinson
Reviewer: Nichola Daunton
A revival of Billy Roche’s 1988 play, A Handful of Stars at Theatre503 provides the launch pad for ex-Boyzone member Keith Duffy’s stage career. Roche, an Irish playwright who has set the majority of his plays in the town of Wexford where he was born and still lives to this day, writes plays about the realities of everyday, small town Irish life.
Part of his Wexford Trilogy, A Handful of Stars is set in a run-down snooker hall, part private members club, part sleazy joint for the town’s disenchanted youth. Jimmy and Tony, played by Ciarán Owens and Brian Fenton, are the teenagers desperate to be welcomed into the members room, yet also resentful of the often corrupt older men who are allowed to take what they want without punishment or retribution, while they are punished every time they step out of line. With shotgun weddings and prison on the cards, Roche’s play examines how the younger generation are swallowed and sapped of their vitality by the banal realities of small town life.
Owens’ Jimmy is charged with frustrated energy, as he alternately looks up to and despises the men above him. Unemployed and held back by the legacy of his father’s name, Jimmy takes his anger out on the world in whatever way possible. Tony on the other hand, played with a gentle softness by Fenton, is quieter, with an innocence that Jimmy is constantly taking advantage of. Director Paul Robinson handles their relationship well, with a brutality and tenderness that is realistic. For a play concerned with such a small and limited world though, there needs to be more at stake to keep the fire alive.
While Owens successfully captures the furious energy at the heart of Jimmy and Roche’s language is fluid and natural, the play as a whole fails to excite, despite the increased energy of the second half. All of the characters are well drawn but the connections which they make do not inspire enough action or drama to sustain the evening. While there are things at stake, including Tony and Jimmy’s freedom, the general malaise of the town which Roche has created drags the play down with it, leaving Owens and Duffy struggling to inject some energy into the proceedings.
Duffy, who cut his acting teeth in Coronation Street offers a strong performance as Stapler, a local boxer on the wrong side of thirty. Both the boys clearly look up to him, especially Jimmy, who sees in him a kindred spirit, a semi-violent, frustrated man who refuses to do what the town expects of him. Which in the end, is the point of Roche’s play. Here are two young men who cannot stand small town life, but with no chance of escape, decide to self-destruct and take down as many other people with them as possible, even if their anger, as Stapler points out, is somewhat misdirected.
Photo: Richard Davenport | Runs until 24th May